Do you ever wonder where some of our customs come from and what they mean? For instance, where did the custom of Valentine's Day originate and what does it mean? It is an interesting history, as you will see.
Webster's dictionary does not say much about it, simply "Feb. 14, observed in honor of a martyr of the third century, and, coincidentally, as a day for sending valentines to sweethearts, schoolmates, etc."
A man who is known as R. Brasch has a book titled "How Did It Begin," which gives us much more information. In the foreword of this book, he says, "This book is the result of many years of research all over the world. Its object is twofold -- to serve as a handy source of information as well as to help the reader in his search for a meaning in the things we do and say (often so thoughtlessly) from birth to death, at play and work, within and without the realm of religion."
Brasch says that "long before the advent of Christianity, the middle of February was considered propitious for love. It was the season of Spring and birds started mating."
Encyclopedia Americana validates this theory when it says "the most plausible of several theories is the medieval European belief that birds began to mate on Feb. 14. This notion presumably suggested that lads and lasses should choose lovers and exchange gifts. Then the word 'valentine' was applied to both persons and presents."
Roman mythology is also associated with this time of year. The goddess Juno was worshiped especially by women. She was the wife of Jupiter and the queen of heaven.
According to Brasch, "part of the pagan ritual honouring Juno was a unique kind of lottery. Young girls wrote their names on slips of paper and these were placed in a drum from which the boys drew their luck. There were no blanks. The girl drawn by a young man became his sweetheart until the next annual draw."
Christianity was "unable to uproot a day dedicated to the enjoyment of life and love. Therefore, the early Church appropriated Feb. 14 for its own calendar, linking it with martyrdom of St. Valentine" according to Brasch.
So, who was Valentine? According to Brasch and the Encyclopedia Americana, he was first a pagan priest in the third century A.D. He was converted to Christianity and became a bishop. One story is told that at the time of the Roman Emperor Claudius, this emperor had decided to abolish the institution of marriage because he thought husbands did not make good soldiers. Valentine considered such a policy as being against the spirit of God and of human nature. So he secretly married young lovers, but that practice did not last long. Valentine was arrested, imprisoned and murdered on Feb. 14, 269 A.D.
Another story that is considered more plausible relates that Valentine frequently aided persecuted Christians and it was for this reason that he was imprisoned and clubbed to death. The date of Feb. 14 was the date of the ancient pagan feast of Juno and, since it was also the date of the death of St. Valentine, it was Christianized and has since been called St. Valentine's Day.
But, "here is the rest of the story." Brasch says "early theologians were men of the world and certainly did not live in an ivory tower. They knew only too well that one cannot suppress man's deepest urges, including his love of gambling -- no matter what. Therefore they retained the ancient lottery but changed the prizes."
At one time, apparently the names of saints were put on the lottery drawings, but now the names of the girls were put on them. The final development came when people were no longer satisfied with having their sweethearts chosen for them by chance. Their own choice, they felt, should take the place of luck. So on Feb. 14, they began sending gifts and cards to the one of their choice. Valentine card sending became a big business.
Brasch does not mention a custom that must be carryover and which, I am sure, many of you will remember. Do you remember "box suppers" where the girls would put together a box full of goodies containing food and other surprises. The boys would bid on the boxes, hoping to get the one from the girl he desired. But, he ate with the girl whose box he had purchased, whether it was the one he had hoped for or not. There were some pretty fancy boxes prepared. Sometimes, there was a secret hint involved. Remember? Happy Valentines Day!
Arris Johnson, Hays, is a member of the Generations Advisory Group.