By Richard Elesho
Its Valentine’s Day. It is a day dedicated to the celebration of love and romance. The hospitality industry benefits more from this festival. It is not unusual to find enthusiastic celebrants dressed in mainly red or other colourful attires on the streets, in joints, supermarkets, e.t.c. participating in the festival. It has always been an amorous celebration with a core component of exchange of gifts.
In fact, the holiday is big business today all over the world. According to market research firm IBIS World, Valentine’s Day sales reached $17.6 billion last year; this year’s sales are expected to total $18.6 billion.
St Valentine or Valentine’s Day is celebrated globally on the 14th February every year. It is an ancient festival now commonly called Lovers Day. It is a universal Christian festival, that is also celebrated by non-Christians. Its origin is shrouded in uncertainty. However historians agree on its pagan roots.
The most common account is that it may have grown from the pagan feast of Lupercalia, otherwise known as the feast of fertility in the days of the Roman empire. The annual debaucherous feast was celebrated about the middle of February.
According to legend on the festival day, Priests were believed to first hide in a cave. Later they would come out and kill a goat and a dog for sacrifice. They then collected the dog’s blood in a container while they skinned the goat. Later in the day, young women would line the street and the Priests after soaking the hide or goat skin in the collected blood would touch their soft bodies with it. This was believed to boost their fertility. Another account holds that individuals sacrificed the animals (goat and dog) and that naked men will then whip women with the blood stained hide.
As the day wore on, the ladies would write and drop their names in a jar. Available bachelors would then pick the names at random, in a manner one can liken to a modern day lottery or raffle draw. Those paired remained as partners for the year. Many of the match-making ended in marriage.
With the advent of Christianity, this pagan feast was outlawed and converted to Valentine’s Day by Pope Gelasius around the end of the 5th century CE. It was most probably named after St. Valentine of Rome who died in 269 CE. The first Valentine’s Day was in the year 496 CE. Why St. Valentine?
According to history, the Catholic Church recognizes at least three different saints named Valentine or Valentinus, all of whom were martyred. One legend contends that Valentine was a priest who served during the third century in Rome. Some Roman emperors were despotic and they persecuted Christians ferociously.
One of such Emperors was Claudius II. In order to advance his territorial ambition, he decided that single men made better soldiers than those with wives and families. Instantly, he outlawed marriage for young men. Valentine, realizing the injustice of the decree, defied Claudius and continued to perform marriages for young lovers in secret. When Valentine’s actions were discovered, Claudius ordered that he be put to death.
Still, others insist that it was Saint Valentine of Terni, a bishop, who was the true namesake of the holiday. He, too, was beheaded by the uncharitable Emperor Claudius II outside Rome. It was a striking coincidence that both executions took place on or about the 14th of February, but in different years.
Other stories suggest that Valentine may have been killed for attempting to help Christians escape harsh Roman prisons, where they were often beaten and tortured. According to one legend, an imprisoned Valentine actually sent the first “valentine” greeting himself after he fell in love with a young girl–possibly his jailor’s daughter–who visited him during his confinement. Before his death, it is alleged that he wrote her a letter signed “From your Valentine,” an expression that is still in use today.
Although the truth behind the Valentine legends is murky, the stories all emphasize his appeal as a sympathetic, kind, heroic and–most importantly–romantic figure.
Whatever the stories behind the feast and however its origin, Valentine has come to stay. It is a season to show love usually through the exchange of cards, messages and other gifts…Even then, it means different things to different people. For some, it is a season to be promiscuous, immoral and indulgent. For others it is a season for agape love and a period to show concerns for plight of the needy.