Every year on February 14, people celebrate Valentine’s Day or rather, the Feast of Saint Valentine. What was first celebrated as a Christian feast day to remember one or more martyred early Christians by the name of Saint Valentine, has today, developed into a significant cultural, religious, and economic celebration of passion and love in many parts of the world.
But love is for lovers, some might say. And at times, single men and women can feel left out as their feelings of loneliness and even depression get ballooned by the appearance of “love everywhere” at the times just before, during, and just after Valentine’s Day.
Understanding and the awareness can lead to better handling of situations. That said, have you heard, or do you know, the story behind the celebration?
According to various historical accounts, Valentine, was a holy priest in Rome, who was persecuted for his Christian faith and executed on Feb. 14, approximately 270 A.D.
Depending on the source, Valentine’s crimes against the Roman Empire are described differently, but some claim he was detained for covertly officiating Christian soldiers marriages despite Emperor Claudius’ orders to the contrary, while others point to his propensity to aid Christian martyrs in escaping from Roman prisons as his main transgression.
The narrative has had various later embellishments that better connect it to the idea of love. For example, an 18th century addition states that before his execution, he wrote the jailer’s daughter a note addressed to “Your Valentine” as a farewell. A phrase that is still used today several years on.
In any case, Valentine or the Feast of St. Valentine emerged from obscurity several hundreds of years later when the Christian church had a greater presence in Europe and began its campaign to eradicate pagan rituals, becoming a symbol of love and compassion.
Traditionally in the fourth century B.C, the Romans held an annual rite of passage for young men to the god Lupercus. During this rite, the names of adolescent women were placed in a box and drawn at random by adolescent men; the name of the woman he picked became a companion for a year of mutual entertainment and pleasure (often sexual), after which another lottery was held. The early church fathers sought a “lovers” saint to replace the deity Lupercus in order to put an end to this eight-hundred-year-old practice. Valentine, a bishop who had been martyred over two centuries before, was identified as a likely candidate.
Thus, in A.D. 496, a stern Pope Gelasius forbade the Lupercian feast in the middle of February. However, he was astute enough to keep the lottery since he was aware of Romans’ fondness for gambling. The names of saints were now inserted into the box that had previously contained the names of available and willing single ladies. Both sexes pulled slips of paper, and they were supposed to follow in the footsteps of the saint whose name they had drawn for the following year. With difficulty and the passing of time, an increasing number of Romans abandoned their pagan celebration in favour of the church’s holy day. Gradually, the “religious” sentiments ascribed to the day depreciated but the lottery aspect of the day remained fairly intact up until the ninth-century.
For instance, in London, from at least the first quarter of the seventeenth century, groups of men and women assembled on the evening of 13 February to take part in valentine lotteries. During the lottery, participants inscribed their names on pieces of paper that were then wrapped up and placed into hats or aprons. “And then, everyone picks a Name, which for the moment is termed their Valentine,” the tradition said. After that, using a predetermined line of rhymed verse for each letter of a person’s name, people would write poems. The verses were fastened to women’s breasts and wrapped around men’s hatbands throughout the following days.
Away from the sermons, by the eighteenth century, what started off as a religious and public rituals had metamorphosed into individual superstitions surrounding love and marriage. One superstition stated that one should kiss the first stranger they see on the morning of February 14 because that stranger is their Valentine. Putting a “slice of the bride-cake, thrice drawn through the wedding ring” or, in the north, a piece of the “groaning cheese” used during christenings, under a pillow is one method people have used to forecast their future spouse, according to dictionaries of popular superstitions. It was said that if an unmarried woman observed a fast on Midsummer’s Eve and set out bread, cheese, and ale on the table, “the person she will later marry will come into the room, and drink to her by bowing.”
In the later years of the eighteenth-century, the superstitious aspects of Valentine’s Day certainly persisted longer in rural areas. This was however met with lots of criticisms. For instance, John Brand, argued that “Christians, or rather Papal Rome,” had “borrowed her Rites, Notions, and Ceremonies, in the most luxurious Abundance from ancient and Heathen Rome,” with celebrations like Valentine’s Day rituals being “stolen out of the Wings of the Dying Eagle.”
On the other hand, the authentic Christian religion was categorically neither enigmatic nor superstitious. Henry Bourne, a curate, asserted that popular rites were either “a Scandal to Religion” and “a promotion of Wickedness” or they had lost their original purpose “through Folly and Superstition.” It was believed that the “ordinary people” who performed these ceremonies held unholy superstitious beliefs that were “either the Produce of Heathenism or the Inventions of lazy Monks.”
In the last ten years of the eighteenth century till date, Valentine’s Day became a part of the consumer economy as bookstores, printers, and stationers offered pre-made cards for sale. Thus, a custom that had previously been part of folk rituals was monetized and transformed into a commercial event.
Valentine’s Day, which was marked by the manufacturing of cards made and marketed as desirable consumer goods, was a component of a commercialized culture that featured lucrative entertainments including art exhibitions, balls, the circus, concert series, pleasure gardens, and the theatre.
Thus far, in modern context, Valentine’s Day celebrations around the world occur in different ways that reflect local ideas about love and economic progress.
In the Philippines for instance, Valentine’s Day is the time when many young couples marry in an event sponsored by the government as a form of public service. Among the most amazing Valentine’s Day celebrations around the world, this one is a glamour event in the country and a special day for young people.
In Ghana, February 14 is marked as the “National Chocolate Day.” It is a step that the Ghana government took in 2007 to increase tourism in the country. This initiative was also to draw the focus of the young ones in society away from fixating on sexual activities and more towards other means of showcasing one’s love, like through the gift of chocolate.
From all the above, it is evident that, we have lost the true and original essence of the valentine’s day celebrations. Whilst the dynamism and context specificity have largely been embraced, a question arises: is the Valentine’s day still worth celebrating? I’m asking because many people beat themselves up for not matching up to what society expects them to do on this day.
The cost of celebrating Valentine’s Day can be rather relatively high at a time when global economies are struggling; let’s face it. Valentine’s Day can be an opportunity for businesses to take advantage of you and your significant other on a day that should amplify the values of love. Many people end up feeling disappointed with the holiday because they wake up the next day to realise that all the gifts, flowers, candy, and pricey meals did not live up to high expectations.
Thus far, according to a National Retail Federation survey conducted in 2017, individuals anticipate spending an average of $161.96 on Valentine’s Day for their significant others, kids, parents, friends, and co-workers.
Additionally, men are more inclined to spend much more money than women. Men plan to spend $229.54, according to the report, while women plan to spend $97.77; juxtapose that and convert this at the current rate of the USD to the Ghana Cedi. Americans for instance are said to have spent more than $30 billion on the holiday that same year.
Valentine’s Day comes with a lot of high expectations for couples, including the ideal presents, the most elaborate supper, and the idea of enduring love and passion. Two people are under a great deal of pressure on just one day of the year. Valentine’s Day puts a lot of strain on relationships, which can be harmful and even cause breakups.
According to a study tracking Facebook breakup statuses, it was found that couples tend to break up more often after Valentine’s Day. To infer from this, maybe it’s not idea to feel bad for being single on Val’s Day; look at the facts aforementioned. That is to say, if you are single during the period, do not break your head over it, you might have just been saved from a potential heart break haha!
Seriously though, albeit the above presented case, we could equally turn the case upside down in favour of the suppliers and sellers of these gifts and the local economy in general. CitiBusiness News once reported that the sale of chocolate shoots up significantly during Valentine ’s Day. What hurts the pockets of the purchaser, benefits the seller and the chocolate economy.
To summarise, Valentine’s Day or Saint Valentine’s day celebration dates back as late as A.D. 496. It started off as a means to put a stop to the “barbaric” Roman rite of passage celebration for males. In place of this, Valentine, a priest who stood for love was to be celebrated and enumerated. The passage of time have allowed several modification of the day while the central theme of love has still been maintained. Ghana for instance in 2007 reinvented the Valentine’s day celebration into what is now called National Chocolate Day. Since this initiative, the sales of chocolate has seen a marginal increase during the celebration.
I hope you enjoyed the read. Hit me up, and let’s keep the conversation going! I read all the feedback you send. Also, feel free to throw at me topics you’d like to read or hear my thoughts on. You can always head to my Calendly at calendly.com/maxwellampong or connect with me your own way through my Linktree: https://linktr.ee/themax.
Have a blessed week!
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Anthropology and Sociology, Vol. 15 of Dov M. Gabbay, Paul Thagard, and John Woods eds), Handbook of the Philosophy of Science
Ayorkor J. (2017, February 14). Chocolate sales surge over Valentine day celebration. Citi Business News.https://citibusinessnews.com/2017/02/chocolate-sales-surge-over-valentine-day-celebration/
Bourne, Antiquitates Vulgares, (714) England not Superstitious.
Grose F. ( 1787), A Provincial Glossary on the History of Valentine’s day.
Taswell W. (1696) Gospel contrary to reason, nor above it TheChurch Have a History? A Bourdieuian Approach to Understanding Emotion’, History and John Brand, preface to Bourne, Antiquitates Vulgares.
Rouse J. (2006). ‘Practice Theory’, in Stephen Turner and Mark Risjord (eds) Philosophy of Science.
Scheer M. (2012), ‘Are Emotions a Kind of Practice and is That What Makes Them.
Hobsbawm E. and Ranger T. (1983) The Invention of Tradition, Theory 51.
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