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Valentine’s Day has long traditions

Date Posted: 2002-02-07

Everyone will probably agree that Valetine’s Day, Feb. 14 is the most romantic day of the year. In Western countries, chocolate and flower shops do their briskest business of the year as men buy sweets and flowers to their sweethearts. Valentine's Day started in the time of the Roman Empire. In ancient Rome, February 14 was a holiday to honor Juno. Juno was the queen of the Roman Gods and Goddesses. The Romans knew her as the Goddess of women and marriages. The following day, Feb. 15 began the festival of Lupercalia.

The lives of young boys and girls were strictly separate. However, one of the customs of the young people was name drawing. On the eve of the festival of Lupercalia the names of the girls were written on a slip of paper and placed into a jar. Each year boys would draw a girl's name out of the jar and would then they would be partners with each other during the festival. Sometimes the pairing of the young people would last a year and they would later fall in love and marry.

Under the rule of Emperor Claudius II, Rome was involved in many wars. Claudius II thought married men made poor soldiers because they did not want to leave their loves or their families. As a result, all marriages and engagements were cancelled.

St. Valentine whose name the day now bears was a priest in Rome. According to legend, he was arrested and jailed either for helping Christians escape persecution or for performing marriages at a time when marriages were forbidden. While Valentine was in jail, he became friends with the blind daughter of one of the guards and cured her blindness. Before he left the jail, he sent her a farewell note, signing it "from your Valentine," a tradition that still exists today. The legend has it that Valentine was executed on or around February 14, during Lupercalia, about the year 270.

As the Roman Empire spread throughout Europe, the Romans carried the traditions of Lupercalia as well as the story of St. Valentine with them. After the empire became Christian, the name of Lupercalia was changed to St. Valentine's Day, in honor of the saint's commitment to lovers, and shortened the festival to one day. Even though the name of the festival changed, the customs did not, and people still send small gifts and wishes to friends and loved ones.

Charles, the Duke of Orleans sent the first Valentine’s card in 1415 to his wife while he was imprisoned in the Tower of London. Cupid, the essential feature in Valentine’s cards was originally the son of Venus, the roman god of love and beauty.

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