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The Origins of Saint Valentine’s Day

February is upon us once again, and we all know what that means; love is in the air. For many citizens of the world, their thoughts are clouded with boxes of chocolate, roses, and candlelit dinners.

In honor of this, I have decided to take my column this month in a separate direction than normal. Whether for my sanity or not, I have chosen to skip a story on potentially more pressing matters such as the opioid epidemic, or DACA, or heck, even the government shutdown that washes that all down so nicely.

Abandon all politics, ye who enter here.

From this point out, I will be taking the time to give some background on a worldwide event based on a little something we all need a lot more of in our lives: love.

Valentine’s Day, also known as Saint Valentine’s Day, is a celebration of romantic love in the modern day. However, parts of its origins are actually… sort of horrific.

The dedication of February 14 for the holiday wasn’t made official until Pope Gelasius made it so in the 5th century A.D., and the reasoning for the chosen date is believed to have been an attempt at curbing a popular pagan celebration called Lupercalia.

As for the celebration of Lupercalia itself (before the Christianization took place), it would begin with animal sacrifices.

After that, strips of their hide would be used to strike young women as a ritual that was said to bestow fertility for the coming year. Then there was the usual feasting, fighting and fornicating that came with most pagan celebrations. Grotesque, but historical.

But what about Saint Valentine? Surely, he had something to do with this?

Right you are! Pope Gelasius did, in fact, name the holiday after a Saint Valentine… the discrepancy comes with the question of which Saint Valentine, as there had been multiple in the high ranks of the Church before the coronation of the day.

The most popular theory is of the priest Saint Valentine who lived in the 3rd century A.D. under the Roman emperor Claudius the 2nd. Claudius was so territorially ambitious that he required enormous armies of top-tier soldiers…Soldiers that there simply were not enough of.

Claudius became so fed up with the complaints of homesickness and pointlessness from his armies, that he saw it fit to ban marriage completely in an effort to harden his soldiers for battle.

Father Valentine, however, saw this as ludicrous. As the legend has it, he continued marrying young couples in secret. When Claudius eventually caught wind of this, he had Father Valentine jailed and sentenced him to death.

Whilst in prison, young couples who had been married by Father Valentine would visit to drop him flowers and notes. Father Valentine also fell deeply in love with the jailer’s daughter, and famously left her a letter on the day of his execution that was signed “From your Valentine.”

But the association of Valentine’s Day with romantic love didn’t arise still until many centuries later, in the 13th century.

Considered by many to be the father of English literature, poet Geoffrey Chaucer wrote a widely popular poem that linked the beginning of the mating period of birds with the famous Saint Valentine’s Day.

Over the next few centuries, this link with romantic love strengthened, as the first written Valentine greetings popped up in the 15th century. Two hundred some years later, it had become a bonafide tradition in Great Britain for lovers to exchange handwritten notes on the date.

The next big leap for Valentine’s Day took place in the 1840s across the Atlantic Ocean when American Esther Howland was inspired by the intricately handcrafted notes she saw passed around London and took to mass producing them here in the states.

The 1900s saw to it that chocolate, flowers and other gifts received a spot in the holiday, and expanded the gift giving to include family and other loved ones.

And as the day grew more popular in pop culture, with appearances in TV specials such as Charlie Brown, it only boosted the commercial success of the holiday. It is a true consumer holiday in the present and has lately been criticized for being exploited as just that.

But whether or not you agree with the mass consumerism of Valentine’s Day, you must agree that it is an economic goldmine.

Each year, more than 1 billion cards are sent, accompanied by some 35 million heart-shaped boxes of chocolate and 220 million roses… just in the United States!

If you’re wondering what that smells like in cold hard cash, the number is just shy of an average of $20 billion per year! A rough estimate pins that around $130 dollars per person in the U.S.

A lot of those figures can be dizzying… But now that I’ve given you a brief history and a modern look at the consumer takeover of the romantic date, I want you to forget everything I just told you.

In the end, none of that matters. And however nihilistic this sounds, all the information in the paragraphs above is no more fun facts regurgitated onto paper that probably made you do no more than exhale a little more than usual.

What does matter are the people in your life. The people who are potentially sitting next to you right now. The people that you would do absolutely anything for.

So tell them what they mean to you. Remind them of how important they are. Maybe through some grand gesture, or with a card or some flowers. Or maybe just with a phone call or a hug. But whatever you do, just make sure you do something to celebrate the love that is needed in this world more than any time I can remember.

And if you have a little bit left over in your heart, then give it to a stranger. You never know who needs it most.

Written by Jaxson Thornton, Editor-in-Chief

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