Each year on February 14th we exchange cards, gifts and candy to celebrate romance. Legends about the origins of Valentine’s Day are sprinkled throughout history, and often found in the superstitions and traditions surrounding this holiday. From ancient Rome, to the Middle Ages and modern day celebrations, the rituals of Valentine’s Day have evolved with the times. How many of these symbolic meanings do you know?
“From Your Valentine”
Historically, two legends are linked with the holiday of St. Valentine’s Day. The first is set in ancient Rome, where a Catholic priest became a martyr on February 14th 270 AD. St. Valentine, as he later became known, defied a royal decree prohibiting marriage during times of war — secretly marrying couples who were in love. Popular belief is that just before his death, he sent his beloved a letter, and signed it “From Your Valentine”. For centuries it was believed to be the original Valentine’s Day card.
Another legend holds that Valentine’s Day has its roots in a pagan celebration of a fertility festival called Lupercalia. Around the fifth century, as newly legalized Christianity swept the Roman Empire, the church incorporated the popular pagan holiday and pegged it to the legend of St. Valentine the martyr.
Is Cupid a Cherub?
Roman mythology mentions Cupid as a mischievous boy and son of Venus, Goddess of Love. His Greek counterpart, Eros is the son of Aphrodite, the Greek Goddess of Love. In both myths Cupid is portrayed as a strapping young man with a quivering arm, responsible for making humans fall in love. It was not until Renaissance that artists and sculptors began portraying him as a chubby little cherub.
The X symbol became synonymous with the kiss sometime in medieval times. People who could not write their names, signed letters and official documents simply with an X. The signature was then kissed in front of witnesses to demonstrate sincerity and intent. It’s probably also where we get the colloquial saying saying“sealed with a kiss”.
Chocolates are often linked romantic decadence, but it was not until 1868 that it became a Valentine Day tradition. The Valentine Day chocolates box was introduced more than 140 years ago by Richard Cadbury — a prominent British chocolatier. Cadbury had invented a more convenient way to consume pure cocoa butter, by eating instead of drinking it. He packaged the little morsels of sweet chocolate goodness in lovely chocolate boxes adorned with Cupids and rosebuds. With that Valentine Day chocolates were born.