Valentine's Day: Love... actually?

Published: February 13, 2011

Valentine’s Day didn’t begin with a pair of star-crossed lovers or a hallmark greeting card campaign — it started with a bunch of half-naked Romans running through the streets  whipping women with strips of goat hide to cure their infertility.

In ancient times February 15 was the Roman feast of Lupercalia, which also included one other rather interesting  tradition: a lottery in which young men would draw the names of teenage girls from a box. The lucky, or not so lucky, girl would then be the fellow’s sexual partner during the remaining year. Often the lady would receive a gift or a greeting in the name of Juno, a Roman goddess. Was this the precursor of the Valentine’s Day card?

Unsurprisingly, the church didn’t quite like all this carrying on so they did what they usually did with deeply ingrained pagan festival — they rebranded it. The date was changed from February 15 to February 14, and the lottery was expanded to allow girls to pick names as well. Now, the names were of Christian saints and the lucky ones who drew the names had to imitate the saints’ actions for the rest of the year. It didn’t catch on.

The holiday was also renamed in honour of St Valentine, but it’s still not clear just who he was or what he did. One legend says he was jailed by the Romans for not giving up on his Christian faith and, while in jail, healed his jailer’s daughter. Before being executed he wrote her a letter signed ‘from your Valentine’

Another version of the legend is that, when the Roman emperor Claudius banned his soldiers from getting married (he thought  it turned them into sissies), Valentine carried out  ‘underground’ weddings. When Claudius found out he tried to convert Valentine to paganism. Valentine in turn tried to make a good Christian out of Claudius and was beaten and beheaded for his pains.

Whatever the truth is, we know that he did actually exist as a tomb was found in Rome dedicated to St Valentine. So the next time you’re griping about buying a Valentine’s card or gift, just remember it beats getting beheaded — or whipped with goat hide.

Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, February 13th, 2011.

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Reader Comments (8)

  • Moise
    Feb 13, 2011 - 5:53PM

    So this means those who celebrate Valentine day are Pagans?Recommend

  • Feb 13, 2011 - 6:26PM
  • Noor Huda
    Feb 14, 2011 - 4:12AM

    yes we should know about history of an event. I personally don’t want to celebrate this event.Recommend

  • Shazad khan
    Feb 14, 2011 - 10:00AM

    i don’t know about the stories
    but celebrating valentine day is like doing a collective sin? i mean think about it, i would never ever want my sister to celebrate something like that with her “Lover”.
    as it is said “all your deeds shall be returned upon you”. If i don’t respect the dignity of other’s sis n etc. why should i believe other would?Recommend

  • Zahid Saleem
    Feb 14, 2011 - 1:01PM

    @Shazad khan:
    Well & exactly rigth you are Shahzad Khan, there are so many reasons for which we being a muslim and morally should not follow that in any way..Recommend

  • Talat Haque
    Feb 14, 2011 - 7:47PM

    THAT was enlightening !! …………. I’m a stubborn believer in love – where ever it may come from ……………. excluding violence ! Recommend

  • Shazad Khan
    Feb 14, 2011 - 10:22PM

    @Talat Haque: well its not much of your fault, these are the Indian movies speaking, c’mon bro, these are the traps one would love to fall in, as the way luks delicious. Recommend

  • Talat Haque
    Feb 15, 2011 - 7:46PM

    @Shahzad Khan ………… I don’t watch Indian movies !! …………… human nature is pro-life …………. whatever encourages and nourishes life is good …………. violence is anti-life …………. that is why I favour all concepts of love ……….. including a loving God ! Recommend

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