In 260 AD Roman Emperor Claudius II made it a crime for young couples in love to marry, apparently believing that unmarried soldiers fought better than married soldiers. A priest by the name of Valentine secretly carried out marriage ceremonies for those desperate to become husband and wife, but eventually he was betrayed and arrested by the Emperor’s forces. The priest was beheaded and then named a martyr by the Church because he gave up his life to perform the sacrament of marriage.
Legend has it that when St. Valentine was in prison, he prayed with the daughter of one of his judges and cured her blindness. Before his execution on the 14th February he wrote her a letter, signing it “From your Valentine” and the signature is still used to show affection.
SAY IT WITH FLOWERS
Over 50 million roses are given for Valentine’s Day each year. In Victorian England people expressed their emotions through floriography, or the language of flowers. Giving a certain kind of flower conveyed a specific message, with red roses being deemed to be the favourite flower of Venus – the Roman goddess of love – and they are still the most popular flower for people to give to one another to demonstrate their love and affection.
Be careful how many roses you give as the quantity can have a special meaning. A single red rose demonstrates love, two red roses tied together symbolise an engagement, a dozen shows gratitude, twenty-five shows congratulations and fifty show unconditional love.
About 1 billion Valentine’s Day cards are exchanged each year. The earliest known surviving Valentine’s card was sent by Charles, Duke of Orleans to his wife whilst he was a prisoner in the Tower of London. The poem, composed in French in 1415, is held by the British Library in London. Nowadays, cards often display hearts – considered the source of all human emotions – and decorated with images of lace, from the Latin laques, meaning “to snare or net,” as in to catch a person’s heart.
In Shakespeare’s play Romeo and Juliet it is said that they lived in Verona Italy. Every year thousands of Valentine’s Day cards are sent to Verona addressed to Juliet.
With his white wings and golden bow and arrows, Cupid is the most famous Valentine’s symbol around. Traced back to 700 BC, the heavenly figure was depicted by the Greeks as a young man called Eros, the God of Love. He was considered both handsome and threatening as he would use his power to make people fall in love but also to hate each other. The Romans added him to their mythology as Cupid, the son of Venus, but it was during the Renaissance when artists painted Cupid as a ‘putto’, a cherub that resembled a naked child.
VALENTINE’S AROUND THE WORLD
Valentine’s Day is a relatively new holiday in Denmark where it started being celebrated in the early 1990s. Rather than roses, snowdrops are exchanged between friends and lovers and there is a unique tradition of sending gaekkebrev (loosely translated as ‘joke letters’) which are original poems or rhymes, written on paper and then carefully decorated by cutting designs in them with scissors.
The Philippines celebrate Valentine’s Day in a big way – with large group weddings. In fact, in recent years, February 14th has become one of the most common wedding anniversaries. Kissing contests where contestants compete to win the title for the World’s Longest Continuous Kiss are held throughout the country.
The tables are turned on the 14th February when women woo men with chocolates and flowers, but then on the 14th March, known as White Day, men up the ante by adding a gift to show their love.
Italians love their food and La Festa Degli Innamorati – the feast of lovers – is often celebrated by going out for a romantic dinner. The tradition of couples writing their initials on a padlock, locking it onto bridges, railings or lamp posts and throwing away the key, began in Italy and although it is now illegal, there is no doubt that many more will appear this
Every year, around 9 million animal lovers buy their pets a Valentine’s Day treat, with more people buying for dogs than cats, up to a value of £5 – but remember not to buy chocolate for your canine friends as it can be extremely harmful for pets.