Who invented the day of love?

Updated on Feb 13, 2016 09:59 PM IST

Greeting card companies didn’t dream up Valentine’s Day. And it hasn’t always been about chocolate…

Greeting card companies didn’t dream up Valentine’s Day. And it hasn’t always been about chocolate…

Yes, there really is a Saint Valentine

Though history tells us there may have been more than one saint with the same name (Valentine or Valetinus), their stories are all mixed up today. One was a priest in 3rd century Rome, who married off couples in secret when Emperor Claudius II outlawed marriage to keep men single for war. Another helped Christians escape brutal Roman prisons, got imprisoned himself and fell in love with the jailor’s daughter, possibly sending her a love letter signed, ‘From your Valentine’.

Of course the Church had to meddle

St Valentine’s feast day falls in the middle of Feb for a strategic reason. It was also the time for the pagan celebration of Lupercalia, dedicated to the god of agriculture (and fertility). Women would be lightly slapped with the hide of a sacrificed goat, in the belief that this would make them more fertile for that year. The women would then place their names in an urn, for bachelors to pick, and mate for the year, making the pairing permanent if they chose. Turning this into a Church feast was an easier transition for the 5th century public.

It is about the birds and the bees

All through the Middle Ages, people in France and England believed that birds began to mate by mid-Feb. Love was literally in the air, of course it needed celebrating. Love notes (the oldest surviving one is from 1415) were exchanged. Later, Chaucer and Shakespeare referred to it in their work.

Years later, in the 1900s, Valentine’s Day got a boost when quick, cheap printing and quick, cheap postage combined to help tongue- tied masses express themselves. Readymade cards became popular – because who needs to compose a sonnet when four-line rhymes start with Roses Are Red, Violets Are Blue…

Singles are fighting back now

Since the 1990s, a movement has been gaining momentum in China. What started as a campus celebration of singlehood has now spread across the country and beyond. Unattached people revel in their status, going to singles parties and exchanging gifts with other singles – making it one of the biggest shopping days of the year. When is Singles Day? Think of all the ones: 11/11 or November 11.

From HT Brunch, February 14, 2016

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    Rachel Lopez is a a writer and editor with the Hindustan Times. She has worked with the Times Group, Time Out and Vogue and has a special interest in city history, culture, etymology and internet and society.

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