Even though Saint Valentine’s Day is not that close yet (some may disagree with me on that), we can already feel a change in the atmosphere. Supermarket shelves are stiffed with chocolates, bows and hearts; pastry shops are already creating pink and red heart-shaped cakes, decorated with sugar couples, and restaurants begin to receive loads of reservations for the typical romantic dinner that’s supposed to be the primary ingredient of such a day. If you read my article on Epiphany though, there’s no need to repeat that so many times we celebrate even if don’t know what we are actually celebrating. So here’s a look at the origins of Saint Valentine’s Day and the tradtions connected to the “lovers’ festival” all around the world.
The origins: According to many historians, every year on the 14th of February, in Rome, until the IV century b.c., a unique ritual in honor of the god Lupercus used to be celebrated. The names of his followers, men and women, were put inside an urn and mixed; then a child would pick random couples that for one year would live together, sharing the same bed until the fertility rite was complete. Legend says that, in order to end this primitive ritual, the early founders of the Catholic church decided to turn the adoration of Lupercus to that of one symbolic Catholic representative Saint. The choice fell on Saint Valentine, a bishop who had been martyred almost 200 years before.
Why Saint Valentine? The legend states that in Rome, in 270 a.c., the bishop Valentino di Interanma (the current city of Terni), supporter of young lovers, was invited by the mad emperor Claudius II to renounce his credo and convert again to paganism. As a consequence of his refusal, on the 24th of February the bishop was stoned and then beheaded. They say that when he was in the dungeons he fell in love with his guardian’s blind daughter and that, thanks to his prayers, she miraculously had her sight back. Just before leaving the prison to be stoned, the bishop left her a note in which he wrote: “from your Valentine”. One of the first people who ever made reference to an actual Saint Valentine’s Day was Geoffrey Chaucer, a medieval poet known as the father of English literature.
“Wanna be my Valentine?”
There are many ways to celebrate Saint Valentine’s Day, some more extravagant than others. Some people send flowers and chocolates to the person they love anonymously, like in Britain and the Netherlands; others prefer a candle-lit dinner or a romantic walk under the moon, like in Germany and Italy (you should see the fantastic heart-shaped pizzas we make). In Spain they send just red roses, but some other countries opt for something rather unconventional. In Japan, for instance, it’s not men who buy chocolates for women, but quite the opposite. Another difference, comparing to the European tradition, is that one month after, on the 14th of March (called “the White Day”), all men who have received chocolates for Valentine’s day, should pay back by giving white chocolate to women. In America, every single person celebrates, even children: on this particular day they exchange nice postcards or drawings of their favorite superheroes. In Italy, Valentine’s Day is not just about love but also about hunting down freshmen in high schools. Poor students from the 1st year get their foreheads and arms covered with “P” (primino: freshman) and are victims of unpleasant tricks from elder students. Last but not least, why not getting married for a day? In Amsterdam, especially on this occasion, there’s the tradition of the so called “1-day wedding”, a celebration which includes in its price the whole ceremony, clothes, music, nuptial rings and pictures, and the good thing is that it lasts for 24 hrs only. Romantic and not too demanding, don’t you agree?