Tradition: St. Valentine's Day

St Valentine's Day as a lovers' festival dates at least from the 14th century. The commonest tradition of Valentine's Day probably descended from the popular English belief that birds chose their partners on February 14. In Wales on Valentine's Day boys gifted girls with carved wooden love-spoons, while in some places of England there is a custom of special Valentine&s Day feasting and baking of extra-special Valentine buns. In other places girls believe the first man they spot before sunrise on Valentine's Day would be their partners for the rest of life.

Amor/Eros/Cupid as a symbol of earthly love. 
To see the full size click the image.
The image will appear in the new window. Celebrated famously on February 14 every year, Valentine's Day has its roots in the ancient Roman festival of Lupercalia. The latter was an annual feasting and celebration by the Romans to keep fearful wolves at bay from damaging their crops. Lupercalia was celebrated on February 15 with the young men striking the women because it was believed that these blows would make them more fertile. This association of Lupercalia with fertility is probably one reason why Valentine's Day is linked to this ancient Roman festival. Also, on the eve of Lupercalia, that is on February 14, it was quite popular for young women to find their partners for the festival. The romantic roots of Valentine's Day can even be traced to this practice.

Another origin of the Valentine's Day lies in the stories of the two saints (of the same name Valentine) belonging to the early Christian church whose lives seem to historically based. One story holds that when the Roman Emperor Claudius II Gothicus forbade young men to marry to make better soldiers out of single men, a priest named Valentine defied the orders and secretly married young couples. Consequently he was beheaded on February 14 for his "crime". And ever since, February 14 came to be celebrated as Valentine's Day commemorating this great patron of people in love worldwide. The other story talks of another Valentine who was a children's favorite but was despised by the Romans for his religious defiances. The Romans had him behind the bars but the children still managed to send fond messages to their favorite Valentine. The current custom of exchanging love messages on Valentine’'s Day might have roots to this age-old tale. Finally during his pontificate Pope Gelasius I (492-496 AD) declared February 14 as St. Valentine's Day !

Cupid detail of 'La Primavera' by S. Botticelli, 1482
Uffizzi Gallery, Firenze, Italy . 
To see the full size click the image.
The image will appear in the new window. The cupids and red hearts are the most powerful symbols of Valentine's Day. The associations are so strong and deep-rooted in human nature that every heart beats stronger when spots cupids on its way. This innocent god of love has such a miraculous power that sweeps people off their feet irrespective of age and location.

Cupid is the son of the Roman goddess Venus, the goddess of love and beauty. The cupid is the popular god of love and it is believed that whoever the cupid strikes with his arrow, instantly falls madly in love. It is for this that the cupid has come to be associated with Valentine's Day. It is also one of the most popular topic in 2000 years tradition of European paintings. For ages painters depicted him in almost no changed manner - the little child with an innocent face, golden curls and blue eyes. He has a pair of wings and always carries a bow an arrow with him ready to shoot his victim.

There are umpteen customs and beliefs. Thanks to local variations the customs undergo slight modifications but the underlying current is everywhere the same - to foretell future husband or wife. One of Valentine's Day customs is the pinning of bay leaves in the pillows by unmarried women on the Valentine's Day eve. This comes from a belief that they would be able to catch a glimpse of their future husbands in dreams if they pinned five bay leaves to their pillows and sprinkled rose water on them the night before Valentine's Day. Then there is also a popular Valentine's Day practice of choosing female-partners by drawing their names from a big jar. Men pick a piece of paper each and the woman whose name comes up, she becomes his valentine. In some occasions, men wore their partners' names on their sleeves and it is probably from this that the popular Valentine's Day saying of "wearing the heart on sleeve" came from.

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