maanantai 13. helmikuuta 2017

History of Valentine's Day

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 a shape sifter god. He could appear as a man or a s wolf. Some stories tell that his character was one inspiration to the legends of werewolves. In his human form Lupercus wore sheep's skins and wolf's furs. He is sometimes connected to the Roman god of wild nature, Faunus. Faunus in Roman mythology is paraller god to Greek god Pan. Sheppard's prayed Lupercus protection to their herd so that other animals would not attack them.

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. 

Lupercalia was celerated to honor the god Lupercus but also the honor the savior wolf Lupa, wolf-mother of Romulus and Remus. It is possible that worship of wolves in ancient Rome goes all the way back to archaic totemic beliefs of the Mediterranean people. 

Lupercalia was celebrated on 15th of February. Ceremonies were led by priests called Luperci (wolf brothers). In the ceremony goats and dogs were sacrificed for the gods. Dogs represented the wolf. People dressed up into wolf masks and wolf furs. People threw cakes baked by Vesta's virgins to the fire. 

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.

Saint Valentine

History of Catholic church knows several saints with the name Valentine. Most famous legend tells about a priest called Valentine who lived in ancient Rome. Cesar of Rome Claudius the second believed that men who were married were worse soldiers than non-married soldiers. Because married men always missed their wives. So Claudius banned priests to conduct marriage ceremonies. Valentine however rebelled against this and in secret he continued marrying couples. Legend tells that Valentine was imprisoned and couples who he had married gave him gifts and presents (this is where the gift giving tradition comes from....according to some sources). In the year 269 Valentine was executed. About 100 years later when Catholic church wanted to get rid of the pagan festival Lupercalia Valentine was canonized. He became a saint and the church started to spread legends about him. 

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. 

In Middle Europe and Southern Europe Valentine's Day has long traditions. In England Valentine's Day has been official holiday since 1537. Valentine's Day's connection to romantic love and love between couples started in the Middle Ages. This was also something that Catholic church at those times supported.

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

Friendship Day

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 

After Christmas Friendship Day in Finland is second biggest holiday in the year when Finns send postcards, text messages and messages in social media to each others. Ystävänpäivä became an official holiday in Finland in 1987. Friendship Day is also celebrated in Estonia and in Denmark. I live here in Wales and Valentine's Day here is very commercial and of course exclusive for couples. I do like the Finnish version way better where the whole concept of love is much larger. 

Happy Friendship Day to all my readers


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