Every February 14th, people across the world send greetings of love and friendship celebrating Valentines Day. Candy and flowers are popular gifts, expressing our love and esteem of the recipients. Schoolchildren also take part in this yearly exchange cards with heart and cupid motifs. Everyone knows this day as the romantic holiday of the year. Do you know the story behind the tradition? Who is this elusive figure known as St. Valentine?
Valentine was a Catholic priest who lived in Rome during the 3rd century. Claudius II was the reigning Emperor of Rome at the time, and was having trouble recruiting men into his army, as they were often dispatched to far off lands, and were so separated from their wives and families. Men were reluctant, unwilling to endure this separation from their loved ones.
Frustrated and angry, the Emperor Claudius concluded that unmarried men would have nothing to lose and therefore be more willing recruits. His solution to the problem was to decree that marriage for young men be outlawed. This did not sit well with the young men, and those in love found the humble priest Valentine more than willing to perform the marriage sacraments for the ardent lovers in secret. Unfortunately, Valentine was found out and arrested by Claudius. He was thrown into prison and sentenced to death.
A sympathetic prison guard allowed his young daughter to visit the unfortunate Valentine, and it's said they became fast friends. Just before his death sentence was carried out, legend holds that Valentine presented her with a letter, signed “from your Valentine”. That simple greeting was the forerunner of today's Valentines Day.
The Vatican eventually declared Valentine a Saint. In 496 A. D. , Pope Gelasius I declared the date of his death in 270 A. D. , February 14th, St. Valentine's Day, a day to express sentiments of love and romance, celebrating the power of the spirit over the material world.
By the Middle Ages, St. Valentines Day was one of the most popular European celebrations of the year. While imprisoned in the Tower of London in 1415, Charles, the Duke of Orleans, sent his wife a card on St. Valentines Day, a practice that continues to this day.
All over Europe, enthusiastic lovers devised various gifts and practices to express their devotion to their lovers on Valentines Day. In Wales, wooden spoons were carved with hearts and keys to show how the recipient could unlock their heart. All over Europe, names were drawn from bowls and then pinned to their sleeves to declare their love to their chosen Valentine. Men offered gifts of clothing to their loved ones. When the woman accepted, they were then betrothed.
Although these customs did not survive, this unofficial holiday is today one of the favorite holidays of the year. Today, we send cards and present candy and flowers to our loved ones. Romantic candlelight dinners are enjoyed by lovers around the world. We all have the good St. Valentine to thank for this lovely celebration. Love is indeed sublime.
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