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The History of Valentine’s Day

By Donna Auvil

By Donna Auvil

Every year on February 14, millions of people across the world present their loved ones with gifts of candy, flowers, chocolate, jewelry, and in some cases even a bread maker! The gift giving is done as a way to show that special someone in your life how much you love and appreciate them! But just where did this tradition come from?

The origin of Valentine’s Day is many centuries old and no one can say for certain how it started. Many believe that the holiday originated from the ancient Roman festival of Lupercalis, a fertility celebration that used to be observed annually on February 15. With the rise of Christianity in Europe, many pagan holidays were renamed for and dedicated to the early Christian martyrs. In 496 AD, Pope Gelasius turned Lupercalis into a Christian feast day and changed its observance to February 14, a day earlier. It was reappointed as the feast day of St. Valentine, a Roman martyr who lived in the third century.

St. Valentine was a bishop who held secret marriage ceremonies for soldiers in opposition to Claudius II, who had prohibited marriage for young men. Claudius felt that married men were more emotionally attached to their families and thus would not make good soldiers. He believed that marriage made the men weak and issued an edict forbidding marriage to assure quality soldiers for the Roman Empire.

Whenever lovers wanted to be married, they came to Valentine and were married in secret. Valentine became known as the “friend of lovers,” but Claudius soon discovered him and had him arrested. When Valentine would not renounce his religion nor give up on his belief in marriage, Claudius sentenced him to death. Prior to his execution, he signed a farewell message to a dear friend, “From your Valentine” – a phrase that still stands today. St. Valentine was said to have been executed on February 14, 270 AD.

Thus, February 14 became a day for all lovers, and Valentine became its Patron Saint. On this day, young Romans offered handwritten greetings of affection, known as Valentines, to the women they admired. Today, Valentine’s Day is one of the major holidays in the U.S. and has become a booming commercial success. According to the Greeting Cards Association, 25 percent of all cards sent each year are Valentines!

How do Towson A&F employees feel about Valentine’s Day? I conducted a brief survey and found that almost everyone celebrates Valentine’s Day in one way or another. Most would like to go out to eat dinner rather than stay at home, but many are willing to celebrate this holiday before or the day after because restaurants are “too crowded,” “overpriced” and “overrated” on February 14. Lucy Slaich, Procurement Director, cites the comic strip Maxine: “the only thing to make for dinner on Valentine’s Day is reservations”. However, she suggests takeout on the 14 and going to dinner another day!

Of those surveyed, most would enjoy receiving the traditional gift of flowers (although it does not have to be the oh-so-expensive roses!). Some said “bring on the bling”, while others would prefer a unique gift – something they wouldn’t normally buy for themselves.

But we don’t have to spend hundreds of dollars! Homemade cards, home cooked meals or homemade gifts were very popular suggestions. Verna Green, Auxiliary Services, says “it’s just nice to be acknowledged”. And I liked the sentiment of Dorothy Proctor, University Budget Office: “No gift is needed. It is better to have a good partner year round rather than a token gift.”

Thanks to all of those who responded to my survey! Some stories and quotes just couldn’t be shared, but I enjoyed the chuckle! A final suggestion from Carol Wettersten, Procurement: “Just because you may think it’s a great idea to have warm, homemade bread every night, giving your wife a bread-maker for Valentine’s Day is not the smartest idea!

And while I love chocolate more than anyone you have ever met, my favorite Valentine celebration is just spending quality time with the hubby and kids and appreciating all that we have! The chocolate is just the “icing on the cake” – chocolate cake please!

Have a great one!

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