Happy Valentine’s day! The 14th of February is that special time of the year when we celebrate love and romance, a day when restaurants are booked up and chocolate sales go through the roof! To understand why it is celebrated it is helpful to understand it’s history, how the traditions of Valentine’s Day started, and the importance of love.
The Importance of Love
Falling in or out of love is one of the strongest emotions that people can experience. Love can be kind. Love can be cruel. Love is everything. Love has been called one of the most studied and least understood areas of psychology, but while perhaps not understood it is not a surprise that we celebrate it and Valentine Day is this time of the year when lovers get together to celebrate their love for each other all in the name of St Valentine.
Why Valentine’s Day is Celebrated
There are various accounts as to the origin of Valentine’s day, but perhaps the most romantic is associated with the martyrdom story of Valentinus, or St Valentine of Rome.
St Valentine of Rome
Valentinus was a priest who served in third Century Rome. At that time Rome was involved in many unpopular and bloody expansion campaigns, the Emperor, Claudius II, had to maintain a strong army but found it difficult recruiting soldiers as young men with wives and families were reluctant to serve fearing turning their wives into windows and their children into orphans. The Emperor decided to outlaw marriage for young men on the basis that single men made better and more willing soldiers. Valentinus defied Claudius and continued to perform marriages for lovers in secret, but when his actions were discovered, Claudius ordered that he be put to death. On 14 February around the year 270 AD, Valentinus was executed.
As it often happened during those days, the injustice of the execution was brought to light and recognized much later. For his great service in the name of love, Valentine was named a Saint after his death. The act of marrying young lovers in secret made Valentinus a criminal and a Saint.
Legend also says that while imprisoned, Valentinus grew close to his jailkeeper. Seeing he was erudite, the jailkeeper asked Valentinus to tutor his daughter, Julia, who was a pretty girl with a curious and intelligent mind but had been born blind. Valentinus taught her history, arithmetic, theology, and described the world of nature to her. Julia saw the world through his eyes, trusted his wisdom and found comfort in his quiet strength. On the eve of his execution, Valentinus wrote a last note to Julia, and signed it ‘from your Valentine.’ It is said that Julia planted a pink-blossomed almond tree near his grave. Today the almond tree remains a symbol of abiding love and friendship.
Lupercalia and St Valentine’s Day
Lupercalia was an ancient, pagan annual festival, observed in the city of Rome between 13–15 February to avert evil spirits and purify the city, releasing health and fertility. The Lupercalia festival survived the initial rise of Christianity but was outlawed, deemed un-Christian (well, OK, it was a bloody, violent and sexually-charged celebration awash with animal sacrifice), and replaced at the end of the 5th century by the celebration of St Valentine’s Day on the same date as today, February 14.
Coinciding with the start of birds’ mating season, at some point during the Middle Ages, Valentine’s Day or February 14 was associated with romance. The English poet Geoffrey Chaucer was the first to record St. Valentine’s Day as a day of romantic celebration with his 1375 poem Parliament of Foules. Later, Shakespeare cemented the day in two of his plays, A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Hamlet, where he alluded to the superstition that if two single people meet on the morning of St Valentine’s day they will likely get married.
Traditions of Valentine’s Day
The base and the root tradition of Valentine’s day is to spread love and share wishes and gifts. Traditions, and the choice of gifts, vary around the world – from wine in Bulgaria, to chocolate in Ghana (it is also National Chocolate Day there), but here I would like to share the Valentine experience in Korea.
Happy Valentine’s Day in Korea
In Korea, where I live, Valentine’s Day is celebrated a little differently. On February 14, the men can relax – they don’t need to worry about shopping for flowers or chocolates, because here it’s the day when women shower men with gifts. If that seems a little unfair, then think again, because the Korean Valentine’s celebration is perhaps a little more democratic than most other places and is just one in a series of calendar-dictated romantic days.
Korean men return their Valentine’s favor a month later on March 14, called White Day, by offering candy and gifts to their chosen one. Then, on April 14 – Black Day, all the single ladies (and men) head to their local Chinese restaurant to eat Jajangmyeon, or Korean black bean sauce noodles, to console their sorrows.
Romantic Love is Not Everything
Valentine’s day is a celebration of romantic or erotic love. This romantic love, called Eros by the Ancient Greeks, is the love that perhaps most naturally springs to mind and is the love that has been the inspiration for countless ballads, stories, pieces of art and has captured the imagination of singers, artists and poets throughout history. However, the Ancient Greeks were quite sophisticated about love and defined in total 8 types of love, Philia (Affectionate Love), Storge (Familial Love), Philautia (Self-Love), Agape (spiritual love), Ludus (Playful Love), Mania (Obsessive Love), and Pragma (Enduring Love).
If you are averse to romance you may find solace in the knowledge that the Ancient Greeks valued certain types of love such as Philia, Storge or Agape far above Eros.
Love is in the air; my happy Valentine’s Day message to you, is simply to wish you a Happy Valentine’s Day!
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