Since Valentine's Day is approaching I thought I would write about the history of Valentine's Day and also the way Valentine's Day is celebrated in my home country, Finland.
Statue of Romulus and Remus and their wolf mother Lupa in Rome
Origins of western Valentine's Day reach all the way back to ancient Rome the the festival of wolves called Lupercalia. Whole Roman Empire was well-known of it's different wolf legends. One of the most famous legends was the story of the founders of Rome. Twin Brothers Romulus and Remus. Story tells that boys mother was Rhea Silvia, who was one of Vesta's Virgins. Their father was the Roman god of war, Mars. Being one of the Vesta's Virgins. Rhea Silvia had to give birth boys in secret. She put them into a weaved basked and laid basket to the river Tiber where it was taken by the current. Twins were found by Roman wolf goddess Lupa. Lupa took the baby brother's to her cave called Lupercal. Where she fed them.
Story continues that Roman god of shepherds Lupercus lead one of the nearby Sheppard's to Lupa's cave. When he saw two baby boys being fed by the wolves he decided to adopt them with his wife. Later one two boys became the founders of the city of Rome.
Lupercus was portrayed both in animal and in human form. In his human form he was a man who wore wolf furs and goat skins. In ancient Rome wolf was not seen directly as an evil creature. Wolf was very much worshiped the same way as bears were worshiped as gods in ancient Finland. Power and speed of wolf was respected yet it was also feared.
As you can probably guess around 300-400 AC. Christians didn't like the holiday where animal was worshiped as a god. In 350 Catholic church converted Lupercalia into a Christian holiday called St. Valentine's Day.
For me personally the story of St. Valentine is very similar to other stories about Catholic saints. People add different miracle works to their names and their reputation grows. It is possible that later on Catholic church combined several different legends together creating the stories about St. Valentine. Also the story of gifts brought to prison feels quite far-stretched. Reminds me a story of another saint connected to gift giving. St.Nicholas to which our modern image of Santa Claus/ Father Christmas is partially based.
First Valentine's Day cards were printed in England in the 19th century. Celebration was loosing it's popularity when it arrived to America. In US largely because industrialism Valentine's Day became very commercial holiday. Red heart became it's symbol. Valentine's Day colors were pink and red. Some American customs related to Valentine's Day are skating and different superstitions. One belief is that the first person you'll come across in the morning of Valentine's Day is your true love. We can still find pagan element also from "western" Valentine's Day. One of the symbols is the Roman love god Cupid. Unfortunately during Victorian times Cupid was "prettinized" to chubby baby angel who shoots arrows of love. Soon after that Valentine's Day in all its commercialism arrived back to Europe
In Finland we celebrate Ystävänpäivä Friendship Day. Friendship Day is bit similar to Valentine's Day but it approaches love from way more broad point of view. This can include remembering friends, spouses, co-workers, teachers and family members. Celebration was introduced to Finland in 1987 but the idea of a day only marketed for romantic love felt very limited for people. So in Finland Ystävänpäivä is dedicated to all loved ones
Happy Friendship Day to all my readers