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St. Valentine's Day

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February 14th is a happy holiday of love and romance. As many other traditional festivals, it has its roots in the third-century Roman celebration of Lupercalia, the fertility festival, held on February 15th. On that day, all bachelors from the city would draw the name of the woman who was to become their match for the year. When Christianity began to dominate, the Church, in its attempts to eradicate the old pagan tradition changed its name to St. Valentine’s Day celebrated on February 14th, and introduced the practice of drawing the names of Christian saints lives young men and women were to imitate in the following year.
But who was St. Valentine? It is not clear as the Catholic Church honours at least three different saints of the same name, two of whom might have given rise to Valentine’s Day as we know it today. One of them was a third-century Roman priest, who contrary to Emperor Claudius’ wishes, performed secret marriages for the emperor’s soldiers. The soldiers were prohibited from marrying because afterwards they didn’t want to leave their families and go to war in foreign lands. As a result of his disobedience, Valentine was sent to prison and executed on February 14th 269 AD.
Another legend says that Valentine might have been executed for helping early Christians escape roman prisons. The romantic side to St. Valentine’s legend is the story of Valentine falling in love with the prison guard’s daughter, whom he had cured of blindness. Gradually, all the legends and stories merged into one and, in 494, Pope Gelasius declared February 14th St. Valentine’s Day became the patron saint of lovers. By the Middle Ages, he was one of the most popular saints in France and England.
There’s yet another theory why February 14th was chosen as the holiday of love. People believed that this was the time when birds started to mate. Since doves and pigeons mate for life, they came to symbolise fidelity. Based on the idea of the birds finding their mates, young men chose their valentine by drawing names from the box on St. Valentine’s Day. If a young girl, on the other hand, wanted to have a vision of her future husband, she had to go to a graveyard on the eve of St. Valentine’s Day, sing a special chant and run around the church twelve times.
How do people express their feelings on Valentine’s Day? They usually send cards. The author of the first valentine might have been Valentine himself, who sent his goodbye letter signed ‘From your Valentine.’ Early valentines were hand-made, decorated with satin, lace, flowers or gold. Unusual valentines were made by lonely sailors who used shells to create hearts and flowers. In time, ready-made valentines began to dominate. Nowadays, in America alone, about one billion valentine cards get sent, making it the second largest card-sending holiday, the first being Christmas. Women buy about 85 per cent of all cards.
There are a lot of Valentine symbols, the most typical being a heart, which used to be commonly linked with all emoticons and later came to signify love. Red roses, associated with the Roman goodness of love, have been used throughout the centuries to express this feeling. Moreover, the rearranged letters in the word ‘rose’ give Eros, the god of love. Cupid, which in Latin means ‘desire’, yet another symbol often used by lovers is a naughty winged boy who shoots arrows into people’s hearts. Why does the ‘X’ signify the kiss in a love letter? In times of illiteracy, people who could not write used this letter to sign documents. The ‘X’ meant sincerity and is nowadays used to seal letters with a kiss.
Despite its long and slightly mysterious origins, Valentine’s Day has been and continues to be one of the happiest holidays in our calendar.

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