If you think Valentine’s Day honour’s a pious saint, martyred upon the altar of love, then think again! You have been beguiled by the cellulose gee-gaws of the great god Consumer who has turned the 14th February into what must be the cheesiest celebration of the year and obliterated some of the world’s most important social and religious history!
Like most of our feast days, Valentine’s Day has much older origins than that of a draft dodging priest called Valentinus who obligingly performed secret marriages so that young men could avoid conscription into the Roman army and was subsequently beheaded for his compassion.
Valentine’s Day actually dates back to the Roman festival of Lupercalia which took place on the 14th & 15th February. It was a fertility rite which honoured Juno, Queen of the Roman gods on the 14th and Faunus, the horned god of the forest and Lupercal, the wolf god on the 15th. These rites had little to do with the courtly love of popular imagination and more to do with the bawdy, licencious behaviour of a Roman baccanalia. As such they were hugely popular and played an important part in the Pagan, Roman calendar.
The various rites and customs associated with the Lupercalia festival gave way to the folk lore which we now associated with Valentine’s Day, but other customs have been added to as the nature of the festival changed down the years .
Divining a future spouse for instance comes from the practice of unmarried men and women adding their names to a draw and being paired with a member of the opposite sex for the duration of the holiday. (Nothing new about speed dating then!).
The “marriage of the birds,” is also based on this tradition with Chaucer and John Donne both waxing poetical over the pre-spring pairing of our feathered friends.
As for that fat kid with wings and a bow, he is the god of sensual desire or erotic love. His naked imagery is one of the oldest Valentine’s day symbols and relates directly to the Lupercalia.
Given the somewhat “earthy” nature of the festival, it is hardly surprising that the Christian church was less than enamoured with its activities with the result that in 496 Pope Gelasius took it in hand by banning the more licentious aspects of the festival and dedicating it instead to St Valentine to focus on the more self-sacrificing aspects of love.
Fact, fiction and myth may have muddied the waters of Valentine’s Day, but the honouring of love can’t be a bad thing which is why we’re celebrating this year with a foot stomping ceilidh on Saturday, 23rd February, 2013 at Packington Village Hall.