Valentine's Day
Valentine's Day
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    The tradition of Valentine's Day is believed to have originated from the pagan customs of the Third Century or Fourth Century B.C., when the Parentalia and Feralia Festivals of Purification were celebrated in Ancient Rome between February 13 and February 18. This was also the time of a Fertility Festival which celebrated a young man's rite of passage and involved animal sacrifices and fertility rituals. February 13, the opening day of the festivals, was dedicated to peace, love and household goods. February 14, the second day of Parentalia was called the Lupercalia...a day some sources believe was dedicated to Juno-Lupa, the She-Wolf. Priests known as luperci from two colleges (Quintillii and Fabii) would meet at the Cave of Lupercal in the Palatine Hill, where a she-wolf was said to have nursed Romulus and Remus, the twin founders of Rome. Vestal Virgins would offer holy salt cakes and the priests would sacrifice a dog and a goat, smearing the animal blood onto the foreheads of youths of noble birth who, clad only in a goatskin thong, later led a band of revelers known as the luperci in the performance of such antics as whipping fields of crops and bystanders with a goatskin strip (known as the februa). Women gently lashed in such a fashion were thought to become fertile...even those known to be barren. The act of such lashings or whippings was known as februatio...both this word and the word februa come from the Latin meaning "to purify." The naming of the month of February is believed to have originated from this meaning. February 15 (the Ides of February) was the second day of Lupercal and the third day of Parentalia...a day some sources believe was dedicated to Juno Februata or Juno the Fructifier, Roman Goddess of Women and Marriage. During the Luperci, the names of willing young women were placed into a box or urn and drawn by lot by every young, unmarried man. The youths and maidens who were thus matched would be considered partners during the course of the coming year, which began in March. Although such matches were generally for sexual gratification, it was not unusual for the pairings to eventaully culminate in marriage.
    According to other sources, the tradition of Valentine's Day is derived from a time when hordes of ravenous wolves roamed the immense wilderness area outside Rome where shepherds (the city's earliest inhabitants) kept their flocks. The God Lupercus (from the Latin lupus meaning "wolf") was believed to watch over the herdsmen and their animals and keep them safe from the hungry predators. Every February, in this scenario, the Romans celebrated a feast (also known as Lupercalia) to honor Lupercus in order that no harm would come to the shepherds and their flocks. This celebration continued to be held long after wolves no longer presented a problem to the Roman countryside. Yet another theory on the ceremonial source of this day is that the festival was actually held to honor Faunus who, like the Greek God Pan, was a God of Herds and Crops. As is apparent, the true origin of this festival is so ancient, that even scholars of the Last Century B.C. were unable to officially determine its roots with any degree of certainty. However, there is no question about the importance of the ceremony. Records show that Mark Anthony was Master of the Luperci Colleges of Priests and chose the Lupercalia festival of the year 44 B.C. as the proper time for the offering of the crown to Julius Caesar.

    With the advent of Christianity, priests attempted to replace such ancient heathen practices. In the Fifth Century A.D., the Church resolved to abolish this pagan celebration by creating its own holiday around the same date and selecting a saint who was remembered for his devotion to love. In A.D. 496, Pope Gelasius outlawed the Lupercian Festival, but cleverly retained the Juno Februata lottery. However, in order to lend the festivities Christian meaning and eliminate the pagan overtones, the drawing of saints' names were substituted for the names of unmarried girls. The names were placed into an urn or box and then young people (both male and female) drew a name from the container. During year which followed, the youths and maidens were supposed to emulate the life of the Saint whose name they had drawn. It took some time for this new tradition to garner popularity, but eventually more and more Romans relinquished the Lupercian ceremonies. Nonetheless, young Roman males, who had been hoping to meet potential mates during the time of the Festival, were not totally satisfied with now having a lottery of saints' names instead, and insituted their own custom of offering women whom they admired and wished to court handwritten greetings of affection on February 14. By the Fourteenth Century, the Church had reverted back to the use of of girls' names. During the Sixteenth Century, Saint Francis de Sales, Bishop of Geveva, made another attempt was made to institute Saintly Valentines, but it proved equally (of not more) unsuccessful as the first and was certainly shorter-lived. Eventually, the Church looked for a suitable Patron Saint of Love to take the place of the heathen Lupercus. They found an appropriate choice in Saint Valentine.

    During the medieval era of chivalry, the names of English maidens and bachelors were put into boxes and drawn out in pairs. Each couple exchanged gifts and the girl became the man's sweetheart for a year. He wore her name on his sleeve and was bound by duty to attend and protect her (the accepted origin of the phrase, "to wear one's heart on one's sleeve"). This old custom of drawing names was considered a good omen for love and often foretold a wedding. In 1537, King Henry VIII declared, by Royal Charter, that all England would celebrate February 14 as "Saint Valentine's Day" and with the passage of time, February 14 became the traditional date for exchanging love messages and simple gifts (such as flowers or candy), with Saint Valentine becoming the accepted Patron Saint of Lovers.

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