|Supposedly, men wore the names of their partners on their sleeves during the celebration, hence the expression, “to wear your heart on your sleeve.”|
Many recognize Valentine’s Day as the time to honor our loved ones and let them know just how special they are to us. We send cards, buy chocolates, give flowers and generally do all the mushy stuff we’ve been saving up for the past year. The origins of this day of love, however, are not so sweet and commercial.
Every year in mid-February, the ancient Romans celebrated the Pagan festival of Lupercalia in honor of Lupercus, the god of fertility. On the eve of this festival, which happens to be Feb. 14, the names of all willing girls were written on slips of paper and placed in a large urn. Young men would each draw a name, determining who would be their love interest for that year.
Supposedly, men wore the names of their partners on their sleeves during the celebration, hence the expression, “to wear your heart on your sleeve.”
When Christianity began to spread, Pope Gelasius decided to alter this lottery tradition so that it was better aligned with the Christian ideals. The names of girls in the urn were replaced with the names of saints; now the game was to attempt to emulate the ways of the saint each person chose for the coming year.
Pope Gelasius also chose St. Valentine, the patron saint of lovers, to replace Lupercus as the overseer of the festivities.
How did St. Valentine become the patron saint of lovers? Legend states that Roman Emperor Claudius II was committed to the notion that unmarried men make better soldiers than those with wives and children to worry about. Therefore, he ordered priests to cease in performing marriages.
One priest, a man by the name of Valentine, strongly disagreed with Claudius and continued to perform secret marriages. When the emperor learned of this, Valentine was thrown in jail and sentenced to an execution by beheading. While awaiting his death, Valentine fell in love with the jailer’s daughter. On the morning of his execution, he wrote her a beautiful love letter and signed it with a phrase which would transcend centuries to become one of the most popular sayings of the holiday: “Your Valentine.”