How Do I Love Thee? - Valentine's Day All Over the World
By Annabelle Chua
I love you.
Three simple words which have given rise to an entire multimillion dollar industry. The love bug is certainly powerful – florists, chocolate makers, restaurants, jewelry makers and gift shops all over the world would readily attest to that. As the fourteenth of February soon approaches, the many infatuated and in love will certainly troop to these outfits and purchase presents for the object of their affection.
Every year, indeed, shopkeepers report an increase in sales when it comes to the occasion we all have come to regard as the Day of Hearts. But how did this day come to be in the first place?
History says that the celebration of Valentine’s Day originated as a pagan tradition in the third century. Every February, the Romans celebrated a feast called Lupercalia to honor Lupercus so that no harm would come to shepherds and their flocks. During the celebration of this feast, names of young women were put into a box and names were drawn by lot. The boys and girls who were paired would be considered ‘partners’ for the year, until the next drawing.
Though this pairing sets the tone for today’s holiday, it wasn’t called Valentine’s Day – until a priest named Valentine came along. Historically speaking, there are at least two Valentines who have been honored with the February 14 celebrations, but it is believed that the Valentine to whom Valentine’s Day is attributed was a priest during the reign of the Roman emperor Claudius. Claudius was trying to recruit men as soldiers for wars, but without much success as the men preferred to stay at home with their wives and sweethearts. Enraged, the emperor decreed that no more marriages could be performed and all engagements were cancelled. Valentine thought that this was unfair and unjust, and secretly performed marriages for couples. Upon discovery, he was thrown in prison where he died.
Another account says that Valentine was jailed for helping Christians. While in prison, he cured a jailer’s daughter of blindness. But then the ever unreasonable emperor was furious and had him beheaded of February 14, 269 A.D.
Yet another story claims that Valentine fell in love with the jailer's daughter and wrote her letters that were signed "From your Valentine."
Eventually the different Valentines in history all evolved to one person. During the fifth century, Pope Gelasius declared the day in honor of St. Valentine. St. Valentine has since then been held as the patron saint of lovers, and his day became a special occasion for all in love – and all hoping to be.
Today, people all around the world celebrate St. Valentine’s Day as a special day for showering their significant others with gifts, flowers and attention. Card-giving is very popular in America, and even children exchange valentines with their classmates. In Denmark, men send a form of valentine known as a gaekkebrev or joking letter with a rhyme but without his signature; the lady tries to guess who the sender is. If she guesses correctly, she receives an Easter egg later in the year. It is also a Danish custom to send pressed white flowers called ‘snowdrops’ to their friends.
In Germany, it has become customary for the young man of a courting couple to present his beloved with flowers on February 14. Valentine gifts in Germany are usually in the shape of love tokens, complete with endearing messages. Japan and Korea have similar customs. They celebrate Valentine’s Day, but on February fourteenth, it is only the women who give gifts. The men give gifts a month after, on the fourteenth of March. Also, in Japan, chocolate is the most popular gift from women to men, but because they believe that store-bought chocolate is not a gift of true love, they tend to make the confection with their own hands. In our own country, boys send flowers, chocolates and adorable stuffed toys to their girlfriends as a symbol of love. Couples go out to eat, exchange presents and simply celebrate their relationship.
More than a thousand years have passed since the time of St. Valentine, but his legacy of romantic love certainly lives on. In a way, his memory and his day of honor reminds us that in a world filled with strife, there’s always room for love.