The Feast Of St. Valentine

by Brian Costa

Valentine's Day, also known as the feast day of St. Valentine, is a day that is now associated with love and affection. However, most people have no idea where or how Valentine's Day originated. Very few people associate the holiday with the church anymore. I probably wouldn't know the connection either if the Jesuit priests at my school hadn't explained the origin to me as they do with students every year. Valentine's Day actually does have Christian origins, as well as Greek and Roman origins. The way Valentine's Day is celebrated today is actually quite close to the way it was celebrated in ancient times.

The origins of Valentine's Day are unknown to most people. The name Saint Valentine was actually given to two Christian martyrs. The first was a Roman priest martyred in 268 A.D. under the persecution of Claudius the Goth. The other was supposedly a bishop of Terni martyred in Rome. There is some debate as to whether St. Valentine was based on a real person, both of these people, or perhaps just one of them. The church celebrated the feast of St. Valentine on February 14. The reason for the connection of St. Valentine's Day with love and courtship is because its date coincides with the Roman festival of Lupercalia. This was celebrated on February 15 and was believed to be in honor of Fanus, the Roman god of flocks and fertility. It was intended to insure the fertility of people, fields, and flocks for the New Year. This festival eventually died out by the 5th century, A.D. In 1969, the feast day of St. Valentine was dropped from the Roman Catholic Church calendar.

Another symbol of Valentine's Day is Cupid. He is the playful little child that is depicted flying around and shooting people with arrows, causing them to fall in love. Cupid also has Roman origins, although he is not connected with Lupercalia. Cupid, in Roman mythology, is the source of love in the world. In Greek mythology, he is also known as Eros, son of Aphrodite, goddess of love. It is here that the myth of the gold tipped arrows of love originated. He was often depicted by artists as being a child with wings, carrying a bow and a quiver.

Valentine's Day today has become quite different from its Roman ancestor. Naturally, we don't have fertility gods to worship, but we do observe it in a more modern way. Valentine's Day is now a day where couples often exchange gifts with each other and also share a romantic evening, or something to that effect. As anyone in a relationship probably knows, Valentine's Day can cause trouble, because the guys often forget about it, but girls never do. Although Valentine's Day was dropped from the Roman Catholic Church calendar, it is still celebrated by many as a secular holiday. It is always good to have a day to celebrate our love and affection for others, and perhaps to find out if we have any secret admirers.

As we move into the 21st century, hopefully we will continue to observe Valentine's Day in the same loving and caring way we do now. Who knows, we may even add our own new traditions to this holiday as time goes on. It will be interesting because one day in the future people may look back and see our current traditions and wonder how they came about. As long as Valentine's Day continues to be a time of love, affection, and peace, then may it live on for a long time.

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