So, you don’t have plans for Valentine’s Day. You’re single, and February 14 will only amplify your awareness that you still live vicariously through Hallmark movies. You’re not alone! Countless singles dread Valentine’s Day, with nothing better to do than concoct hate comments for cutesy Instagram couples.
Rather than having to waste your witty insults on couples this year, however, info-dump your way into feeling better about your relationship status; let them know how contradictory the history of Valentine’s Day is from its modern portrayal! After learning about the not-so-romantic, unideal stories surrounding the origin of this sappy holiday, you yourself may think twice before envying couples this February.
Roses are red, and so is blood
Ever wonder where the ‘Valentine’ in Valentine’s Day comes from? Traditionally, Valentine’s Day celebrates love and the other emotional, lovey-dovey couple stuff that makes many people want to projectile vomit. It’s almost unbelievable that Valentine’s Day can get any grosser than that, but it sure does if you find blood more nauseating than PDA.
As one Christian legend goes, Valentine’s Day originated from three Catholic-recognized martyrs who all happened to be named Valentine or Valentinus. Yes, three different St. Valentines were all coincidentally martyred on February 14. This detail has sparked a theological argument that St. Valentine was only one person. Despite this speculation, if it’s true, a coincidence like that might deserve to be given its own day.
According to History.com, around 270 CE, Claudius II — the ruler of Rome — was convinced that his single soldiers were more effective at battle than those with wives. So, beloved single reader, you should be proud: your romantic availability would put you ahead of couples in the candidacy for a Roman soldier. A win for the singles!
Claudius’ newfound appreciation for singles led him to ban young men from marriage. So, of course, St. Valentine, being the romantic he was, decided to marry young couples privately, outwardly disobeying the emperor in a vouch for justice. As history goes, rulers don’t tend to appreciate disobedience, resulting in this case in the execution of St. Valentine. Did the secret weddings seem worth the resulting consequences? Not really!
Another version of St. Valentine was also martyred on February 14 and then beheaded by the emperor for disobeying his strict religious laws. It has to be said, at least, that no matter how much you despise romance, couples, or cringy displays of love, nobody will ever harbour the same hatred for Valentine’s as Claudius II did.
XOXO, from prision
Receiving nauseating Valentine’s cards on February 14 is a tradition that fuels the social hierarchy in elementary schools and probably reminds you of those sixth-grade rejections. The origin of the note-giving rite comes from one story of St. Valentine’s incarceration, led by his involvement in the escape of abused Christian prisoners. Valentine was ordered to be executed on February 14, writing his love — rumoured to be his jailer’s daughter — a note. Talk about forbidden love! He signed the note, “From your Valentine,” an iconic message used to this day, before being martyred like his fellow St. Valentines.
Valentine’s note is just as iconic as the first documented Valentine we have, which was also written from behind bars. As the common story goes, Charles of Orléans was captured and imprisoned after the Battle of Agincourt. From within his cell, poor Charles authored a poem to his wife, the last line of which read, “My very gentle Valentine.”
This story, however, does not stand up to fact checking. Historians now believe the poem was written after Charles had returned to France. Regardless, the prisoner was never reunited with his wife; his imprisonment lasted longer than his wife’s remaining lifespan.
There is definitely a market for bad boys with a criminal record, but in my opinion, imprisonment, war, and the tragic death of your spouse don’t sound like an ideal recipe for a romantic Valentine’s Day.
Animal skin and… fertility?
‘Lupercalia’ is a pretty word to describe a festival consisting of slapping women with animal skins. The Romans celebrated Valentine’s Day through this ancient fertility festival, a practice in honour of the Pagan Gods.
Using the stripped skins of sacrificed animals, Roman priests slapped at any woman who happened to cross their paths. Apparently, being slapped by the skin of a sacrificed animal made a woman fertile; how they decided this is a very good question. At least these women were, apparently, not fearful of the men striking at them with animal skins. Women welcomed the practice in hopes of fertility in the upcoming year. As appalling a ritual as it is, at least it seemed consensual!
Pope Gelasius later dropped this festival, claiming the practice was “un-Christian.” Surely, this was a conclusion that was code for ‘a rather odd thing to be into.’ Although it’s an exciting method of celebrating February 14, Lupercalia would not likely pass as romantic in modern society — but to each their own!
Who’s the flying baby?
Cupid is a figure often seen in the romantic propaganda associated with Valentine’s Day, but who is he? Known as that little cherubic guy with the wings and arrows, Cupid — or Eros — was the handsome son of Aphrodite, the beautiful Goddess of love that we all know and love.
Yes, you read that right. Handsome. The flying baby was not always a flying baby. He was a handsome young man who was both sexually powerful and manipulative. The modern-day toxic dream-boy Eros was a perfect example of the ‘ick.’
Eventually, after his constant shenanigans using love to incite tragedy, his mother put him in timeout. Well, not actually. Aphrodite scolded her son, forcing him to use his powers solely for love rather than chaos. The familiar discipline only a mother could display reduced Eros’ intimidating reputation. The mortals who worshipped these gods continued to infantilize the figure we now know as Cupid, ensuring they would be safe from his wrath as long as he was still powerless against his mother.
It’s cringe-worthy, almost. There is nothing wrong with being a momma’s boy, of course, but Cupid shouldn’t represent Valentine’s Day. In fact, his child-like obedience makes him more suitable to be the face of Mother’s Day!
Surely, you now realize that Cupid is a bit lame to thank for the creation of this romantic holiday. That is, unless your mother is your Valentine this year: then power to you, momma’s boys!
Despite the heart-shaped candy and the romantic propaganda, Valentine’s Day is just a bizarre, ancient joke. If you wonder what to do this Valentine’s besides wallowing in your singleness, consider walking up to a happy couple and telling them about the true origins of the day they’re celebrating! Happy Valentine’s!