The origins of Valentine’s Day and the messages behind gifts of bouquets

You can’t go wrong sending roses for Valentine’s Day, but other cut flowers, even plants, score meaningful points, too.

Each February, writers and bloggers delight in offering facts and myths about the day’s origins and traditions. Many stories trace it back to ancient Turkey and Rome, with religious origins and some folk legends tossed in.

  • In the third century AD, a Catholic bishop named Valentine defied a ban on marriage by Roman Emperor Claudius II and continued performing ceremonies in secret. Evidently, the emperor felt that single men made better soldiers. When Claudius found out about Valentine’s defiance, he had the bishop put to death (probably by one of the single guys). Valentine was declared a saint by the church sometime later.
  • The ancient Romans observed Lupercalia, a pagan fertility festival held Feb. 13-15 and dedicated to the Roman god of Agriculture, Faunus. After a full day of animal sacrifices, women placed their names in an urn and had their names drawn by the bachelors. Either the couples ended up in marriage or tried their luck again the following February. In the fifth century, Pope Gelasius I banned Lupercalia for its un-Christian-like practices, and renamed Feb. 14 St. Valentine’s Day.
  • Who can forget the commencement of the bird-mating season in mid-February, first written about by four English authors? The most famous, Geoffrey Chaucer, wrote “Parliament of the Fowls” in honor of the engagement between England’s Richard II and Anne of Bohemia, daughter of the Roman Emperor Charles IV, in 1382. “For this was on Saint Valentine’s day, when every fowl comes there his mate to take … .”
  • Perhaps the oldest known surviving Valentine’s Day poem was written in 1415 by Charles, Duke of Orleans, to his wife while he was imprisoned in the Tower of London after the battle of Agincourt between the English and the French. (“I’m already wearied by love, my very sweet Valentine.”) You can see and read in person his affectionate poem in the British Library in London. Today, there are over 145 million Valentine’s Day cards exchanged each year worldwide. E-Valentines are gaining in popularity.  (Sorry, they’re just not the same as handwritten cards in my book.)

Source: The origins of Valentine’s Day and the messages behind gifts of bouquets

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