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According to Encyclopedia Britannica, Valentine’s Day is a holiday celebrated annually on 14 February, when people express their affection with greetings and gifts.

It is also called St. Valentine’s Day. The holiday has expanded to express affection between relatives and friends.

It has interesting origins, which date back to centuries and some of them are steeped in myths and folklore.

A common root is traced to a pagan fertility festival that has been dated as far back as the 5th century B.C. The festival of Lupercalia — held in mid-February — celebrated the coming of spring, including fertility rites.

The origins of the festival are obscure, but it could have been derived from lupus (Latin: 'wolf'), implying a connection with an ancient deity who protected herds from wolves and with the legendary she-wolf who nursed Romulus and Remus, the mythical twins, the former of which founded Rome. In accordance with rituals, Roman priests would sacrifice goats and dogs and use their blood-soaked hides to slap women on the streets, as a fertility blessing.

In 494 CE, the Christian church under Pope Gelasius-I prohibited participation in the festival. Tradition holds that he transformed the Feast of the Purification (Candlemas), celebrated on February 2, which eventually came to be replaced by St. Valentine’s Day observed on February 14th.

The true origin of the name remains vague but Valentine’s Day did not come to be celebrated as a day of romance until about the 14th century.

Researchers suggest that the name St. Valentine may have been inspired by Christian martyrs named Valentine.

However, a strong link appears in the tale of a priest who was martyred about 270 CE by Emperor Claudius II Gothicus. According to the legend, the priest signed a letter 'from your Valentine' to his jailer’s daughter, whom he had befriended and, by some accounts, healed from blindness.

Yet other origins suggest that the name was derived from St. Valentine of Terni (in ancient Italy), a bishop, for whom the holiday was named. It is also possible that the two saints were actually one person. Another common legend states that St. Valentine defied the emperor’s orders and secretly married couples to spare the husbands from being sent to war. It is for this reason that his feast day is associated with love.

The idiom "wearing your heart on your sleeve” — meaning exposing our true emotions— may have origins in picking a valentine.

Smithsonian Magazine highlights that Emperor Claudius II, mentioned above, believed unattached men made better soldiers so he declared marriage illegal. As a concession, he encouraged temporary coupling. Once a year, during a Roman festival honoring Juno, men drew names to determine who would be their lady friend for the coming year. Once established, the man would wear her name on his sleeve for the rest of the festival.

Valentine's Day messages made their appearance in the 1500s, while by the late 1700s commercially printed cards were being used. Valentines commonly depict Cupid, the Roman god of love, along with hearts, traditionally the seat of emotion.

Incidentally, Cupid, a baby-faced figure with bow and arrows, was originally named by the ancient Greeks as Eros, the son of Greek goddess Aphrodite. He would use two sets of arrows — one for love and another for hate — to play with the emotions of his targets. It wasn’t until stories of his mischief were told by Romans that he adopted the childlike appearance that we recognize today and became the symbol of love.

There is another interesting practice linked with this special day. Every year, thousands of romantics send letters addressed to Verona, Italy to 'Juliet,' the subject of the timeless romantic tragedy, 'Romeo and Juliet', immortalized by the famed 16th Century playwright William Shakespeare.

The letters that reach the city are dutifully answered by a team of volunteers from the Juliet Club. Each year, on Valentine's Day, the club awards the 'Cara Giulietta' ('Dear Juliet') prize to the author of the most touching love letter.

Netflix original Big Mouth’s Valentine's Day special, 'My Furry Valentine' depicts history’s first valentine, written in perhaps one of the most unromantic places conceivable: a prison. Charles, Duke of Orléans wrote the love letter to his second wife at the age of 21 while captured at the Battle of Agincourt. As a prisoner for more than 20 years, he would never see his valentine’s reaction to the poem he penned to her.

The first mention of St. Valentine’s Day as a romantic holiday appeared in Geoffrey Chaucer’s1382 poem 'The Parlement of Foules'. The earliest letters between lovers referring to St. Valentine’s Day began to appear soon after the poem’s publication. During the medieval period, chaste courtly love received focus and the roots of some of modern iconography related to Valentine’s Day took shape.

Knights would give roses to their maidens and celebrate their beauty in songs or poetry from afar. Today the red rose has become a symbol of the romantic day while Valentines are mostly sent through social media.

Early Valentine’s Day cards, however, were not necessarily limited to couples. Indeed, some historians suggest that valentines come from the German tradition of friendship cards. Freundschaftskarten, as they are called, were traded during New Year’s Day, birthdays, and other anniversaries.

This tradition had a long history itself, dating back to ancient Egypt and China, where friends and relatives exchanged gifts for the new year. Sometime in the 18th century, Europeans and Americans began exchanging friendship cards on Valentine’s Day. The practice increased in the mid-19th century, especially in England, where the introduction of the penny post made sending valentines more affordable.

Besides sending Valentine cards, the exchange of candies, chocolates and heart shaped cakes became a part of the tradition. The Valentine’s Day tradition of giving a box of candy was started in 1840 by Richard Cadbury, a scion of a British chocolate manufacturing family.

Cadbury had recently improved his company’s chocolate-making technique so as to extract pure cocoa butter from whole beans, producing more palatable drinking chocolate than most Britons had ever tasted. This process resulted in an excess amount of cocoa butter, which Cadbury used to produce many more varieties of what was then called “eating chocolate.”

Richard recognized a great marketing opportunity for the new chocolates and started selling them in beautifully decorated boxes that he himself designed and created the opportunity to sell the chocolates as part of the beloved holiday.

The idea caught on and soon chalky heart-shaped candies were introduced to be distributed on Valentine’s Day. According to Food Business News, pharmacist and inventor Oliver Chase created a machine that would mass produce the iconic candy lozenges. Chase’s brother came up with the idea to print messages on the candy in 1866, and the candies got their heart shape in 1901, appealing specifically to Valentine’s Day sweethearts.

Like other sources of the day, the origin of Valentine’s Day flowers universally symbolises romantic love, and these days, a bouquet of red roses is one of the most popular gifts to give a loved one on Valentine’s Day. The reason for it is probably in the fact that red has long represented love and passion, perhaps because it is the color of the blood being pumped through the heart.

The rose comes from Roman mythology — the red rose (symbolizing the blood of Adonis, the god of love) was dedicated specifically to Venus, the goddess of beauty. Similarly, white roses symbolize purity. Pink roses intertwine purity and romance, so many lovers choose bouquets with all three colors.

In the modern era, Valentine’s Day has become highly influenced by commercialism that focuses on romantic fantasies. To attract customers, manufacturers of cards, confectionaries, bakers, florists and designers of gifts, all use the occasion to market items specific to Valentine’s Day and launch their commercial campaign weeks in advance, bombarding the consumers with messages, using marketing gimmicks.

Valentine’s Day has become a fad especially among youths all over the world. Those in love, start planning out a special day with their sweetheart right on this special day. In fact, some couples start making plans a month before Valentine’s Day so as to relish the day in the most romantic way.

It is interesting that with the mushroom growth of social media, Valentine’s Day has become an occasion in Pakistan too.

The article does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Business Recorder or its owners

S. M. Hali

The writer is a retired Group Captain of PAF, and now a security analyst


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Hujjathullah M.H.Babu Sahib Feb 18, 2023 10:28pm
At least in one of its historically derived meanings Valentine's day is relevant to Pakistan; it will keep the army from sending Pakistani youths as cannon fodder to serve as mercenaries for foreign imperialist causes !
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