How long has Valentine's Day been celebrated?

How long has Valentine's Day been celebrated?

In the year 498, Pope Gelasius I declared the feast of St. Valentine to be on February 14th. The earliest record of St. Valentine's Day, February 14th, being linked with with romantic love occurred in the Middle Ages, in 14th-century England and France. There was a widespread belief that on this springtime day, birds chose their partners to mate - a belief echoed in the verse of Geoffrey Chaucer, in Parlement of Foules:

For this was sent on Seynt Valentyne's day
Whan every foul cometh ther to choose his mate

Many of the beliefs surrounding St. Valentine grew up during this time, and it was customary for goggle eyed lovers to exchange notes and call each other "Valentine". In fact, at least three St. Valentines - all martyrs - appear in the Catholic Encyclopedia.

Valentine's Day's Roman Origins

The origins of St. Valentine's Day date back to Ancient Rome, where Lupercalia, the festival of Lupercus (god of fertility) was ritually celebrated on February 15th. Lupercus was usually depicted half-naked, wearing goat skins, and priests conducting the purification ritual would sacrifice goats to the god, drink some wine, then run through the Roman streets holding bits of goat skin, touching anyone they met with it - in young women, this touch was believed to enhance fertility and promote easier childbirth.

One Roman cleric is strongly tied to St. Valentine's Day because of his name - and his beliefs. Valentinius, candidate for Bishop of Rome in 143, maintained a belief that the marriage bed was central to Christian love, despite the fact that his contemporaries in what was then "mainstream" Christianity embraced asceticism. For more about Velntinius, see Hoeller's commentary, which he states, "In addition to baptism, anointing, eucharist, the initiation of priests and the rites of the dying, the Valentinian Gnosis mentions prominently two great and mysterious sacraments called "redemption" (apolytrosis) and "bridal chamber".

However, the origins of Valentine's Day's association with what we know as romantic love could not have begun before the High Middle Ages, when the concept of romantic love or "courtly love" was formulated.

St. Valentine in Recent Times

In the 19th century, Pope Gregory XVI donated relics of St. Valentine to Dublin's Whitefriar Street Carmelite Church, which is now a popular pilgrimage destination on Valentine's Day. Ironically, in 1969 - the year following the "summer of love" in the United States, the Catholic Church removed St. Valentine's Day as an official Catholic holiday as part of a drive to reduce the number of saint days they considered to be based on legend, rather than fact.

Today, of course, Valentine's Day is associated with mutual exchange of love notes or "valentines", for which the most common symbols include winged Cupid and a heart. However, the holiday has become somewhat depersonalized, with handwritten notes, popular in the 19th century, giving way to mass-produced greeting cards (an estimated one billion of them sent annually in the US alone). However, the holiday need not devolve into pure commercialism, if one can remember its somewhat mysterious and spiritual origins.

Valentine's Day in Japan

Valentine's Day is now celebrated worldwide, thanks to a variety of intensive marketing efforts in other countries. For example, in Japan Valentine's is marked by women giving chocolates to men. Unfortunately, like many such rituals, this one has moved from being a voluntary gesture to a virtual obligation, in which women are expected to give chocolates (giri-choco) to all male co-workers - often at considerable personal expense! (giri means "obligation" and choco is short for "chocolate".)

Thankfully, thanks to a subsequent marketing ploy, the Japanese also have White Day, a reciprocal day (March 14th) on which men are supposed to give something to people who gave them Valentine's chocolates. The gift is supposed to be white, and is often lingerie - and usually given only to girlfriends.