‘Be My Valentine’

For young lovers, the most popular day on the calendar is, without a doubt, St. Valentine’s Day on February 14. Although at least three different Saint Valentines are mentioned in the early martyrologies under the date of February 14, it is generally accepted that the day is named after a Christian priest who defied an edict by the Roman Emperor Claudius. The imperial edict specified that soldiers should not be allowed to marry, as it negatively influenced their fighting skills. By conducting the nuptials for many young soldiers, the priest was sentenced to be executed on February 14, in the year 269 CE and has since become the patron saint of lovers. 

However, it seems that the middle of February was associated with love long before this date, in ancient times, as the early Greeks and Romans observed this time to honour their respective goddesses, Hera and Juno, both related to marriage. The Greek goddess, Hera, was chiefly known as the jealous and often vindictive wife of the philandering Zeus. Although she presided over all phases of feminine existence, she was primarily regarded as the goddess of marriage and maternity. Juno, the Roman equivalent of Hera, was similarly seen in a maternal role. Roman boys and girls randomly drew names and selected their partners at this time in honour of the love goddess. As with all other heathen superstitions and lewd customs, the Church replaced pagan divinities with ecclesiastical saints, and hence allotted the festival of Juno to St. Valentine. Slowly, the tradition of observing Valentine’s Day spread to various European countries. However, the ancient custom of choosing a partner or ‘valentine’ on this day remained.

A contributing factor to the amorous customs linked with this day might be the common belief in England and France during the Middle Ages that all birds chose their mates halfway through the second month of the year. This would account for the many superstitions connecting Valentine’s Day with our feathered flocks. The first kind of bird seen by a young girl on Valentine’s Day was said to be a sign of her future husband; for example, a blackbird indicated a clergyman; a robin, a sailor; a sparrow, a farmer; and a goldfinch, a wealthy man. Another widespread belief related to Valentine’s Day contends that the first person one sees on this day will importantly influence one’s future destiny. Alternately, the first person seen on Valentine’s Day will become one’s husband or wife if one is unmarried. 


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