Will the real Valentine please stand up?

by on February 15th, 2014

Ah, Valentine’s Day. Cards and candies, hearts and love, gift anxiety and expensive dinners. Where do you come from?

There were, in fact, two Valentines who could be the St. Valentine. One was a priest in third century Rome who continued to perform marriages and engagements that the Pope had placed a ban on. The other was a man who was imprisoned for trying to help persecuted Christians, and while in prison he restored eyesight to the jailer’s daughter and they fell in love. On the day of his execution he sent her a message of farewell–a note from her Valentine. Both were executed on or around February 14. Neither of these men seem to have a whole lot to do with how we celebrate Valentine’s Day. What gives?

Like many holidays that we observe today, they are remnants or replacements of much older celebrations and observances. In this case, Valentine’s Day is kind of a PG-rated cover up of the Roman holiday Lupercalia, which was held for hundreds of years on February 15. It was a celebration of fertility that culminated in young men drawing the name of a young woman from an urn, and those two would be partnered for a lovers’ holiday (although at one time it appears to have been for a year!). Important offerings at this time were blood and milk, the red and white colors of which we still see in abundance on this day. In 469, Pope Gelasius set February 14 aside to honor Valentine and draw attention away from Lupercalia and its customs; how successful he really was is up for debate.

How do I know all this? Sure, you could Google it. I, however, went with the fascinating book Holiday Symbols and Customs, in our Reference collection. Lots of good info in there.

And, if you’re still reading, stop by the Reference Desk before 8:00 pm tonight, ask me a genuine reference question, and get some Valentine’s Day candy! Or, stop by to watch our movie tonight in Meeting Room A: Wil Wheaton’s Much Ado About Nothing and get some candy to mix in with your popcorn (you all do that at the theatre, right??).


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