A Toast To Love

As everyone (although some, perhaps, need a little nudge nearer the time) knows, Valentine’s Day is the 14th February, and on that day we treat our loved ones to thoughtful cards and gifts, such as chocolates, flowers, or jewellery. Restaurants and hotels are booked for months in advance – especially if Valentine’s Day itself falls on a Friday or a Saturday as it does this year – and romantic plans are made.

by Lisamarie Lamb

But what’s the history behind this lovey-dovey holiday? Well, it’s a little less hearts and flowers, and a little more war and bloodshed, and there are two legends that give rise to it.

The first dates back to 269AD, when the Roman Emperor Claudius II (Claudius the Cruel as he was more aptly known) was fighting some fairly bloody campaigns on many fronts. He was quickly running out of men to go into battle for him, and began to lose ground. With a long losing streak and his soldiers being slaughtered on the battlefield, it comes as no surprise that anyone who hadn’t yet joined up had second thoughts about becoming a soldier. For Claudius, however, the reason was not quite so clear – he was sure that the reason for the dwindling numbers was because the men did not want to go off to war and leave their girlfriends behind!

His plan was swift and simple; Claudius cancelled any upcoming marriages, and banned engagements. Now his men could focus on fighting (and dying) for him.

Valentine, a Roman priest, was a romantic who decided to defy Claudius’ orders and perform marriages anyway. These marriages were conducted in secret, but they were, unfortunately for Valentine, not secret enough, and he was discovered. Valentine was sentenced to death by beheading.

Whilst awaiting execution, Valentine is said to have fallen in love with his jailer’s daughter, and his last letter before his death on 14th February was to her, and it was signed ‘from your Valentine’.

The second story is also Roman in origin. In ancient Rome, 14th February was a day set aside to honour Juno, the queen of the gods, and goddess of women and marriage. This was the one time during the year that young boys and girls were allowed to celebrate together; normally they were kept strictly separate. A game was played wherein the names of the girls were put into a pot, and the boys would each choose one. They would spend the evening with their ‘fate chosen’ partners, and this would often lead to marriage.

Which do you think is the true story? Or is it something else entirely?

Valentine’s Day Traditions

There are many traditions associated with Valentine’s Day. Some have their roots in ancient Pagan ideas, and some are more modern.

One tradition is, of course, to send a card. For those in relationships, the card is usually signed with their own name, but for those who are admiring from afar, they tend to copy St. Valentine himself, and simply sign ‘from your Valentine’, or something equally mysterious. If the person who receives the card guesses – and ‘accuses’ – the right person of sending it, the recipient must then give the sender a kiss.

In Denmark, where Valentine’s Day has only been celebrated for around 25 years, snowdrops are the traditional flower to send, and cards usually contain a joke or amusing poem.

In South Korea, only the women give gifts which include chocolates and flowers. However, one month later on 14th March it is the turn of the men to give gifts to those from whom they received them on Valentine’s Day – but they should give jewellery or other romantic tokens as well as a box of chocolates.

For Italian women, tradition states that they should get up early on Valentine’s Day and go for a walk. The first man they see is the one they will marry within the year.

However you choose to celebrate Valentine’s Day, have fun!

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