Valentine’s Day: The Celebration of Love and Affection
By Eugene Moodubelle
14 February 2010: Like many other special days, such as friendship day, mother’s day, children’s day, etc. Valentine’s Day has been observed every year on 14th February to celebrate the noble human emotions of love and affection among husband and wife, sweethearts, friends, brothers and sisters and even between parents and children and teachers and students. On this day people send or exchange greeting cards which are commonly known as ‘valentines’ and also gifts, flowers and sweets.
There are different opinions regarding the origin of Valentine’s Day. Some trace it to the ancient Roman festival known as ‘Lupercalia’. The ancient Romans held the festival of ‘Lupercalia’ on 15th February to ensure protection from wolves. During the celebration, young men used to strike people with strips of animal hide. Women were happy to receive these blows as they thought that the whipping made them more fertile. Following the conquest of England by the Romans in the first century, the English borrowed many of the Roman festivals.
Others link the celebration of Valentine’s Day to St. Valentine, one of the early martyrs of the Christian Church. St. Valentine who was martyred during the middle of the third century on the orders of the Roman Emperor, Claudius II. The myths revolving around St. Valentine are quite interesting though there no proof of their authenticity. According to one myth, when the Roman Emperor Claudius prohibited the young men to marry so that they could serve in his army fully dedicated, St. Valentine who was a priest secretly married the young couples in love thus earning the wrath of Claudius for which the former was put to death. Another story says that while in prison, Valentine fell in love with the jailor’s daughter and before he was executed he sent a love note to his beloved signing it as ‘from your Valentine’ an expression that has been used even in modern times.
In England, this day is associated with the belief that on 14th February birds have been found choosing their mates. Geoffrey Chaucer, an English poet during the fourteenth century wrote in ‘The Parliament of Fowls’, “For this was on St. Valentine’s Day,/When every fowl cometh there to choose his mate.” Shakespeare, one of the greatest dramatist of England during the medieval period has made references to Valentine’s Day in some of his plays. In the play ‘Hamlet’, Ophelia, one of the characters in the play, sings, “Good morrow! ‘This St. Valentine’s Day/All in the morning be time,/And I a maid at your window,/To be your Valentine.
People in England probably celebrated Valentine’s Day as early as the fifteenth century as the custom of sending romantic messages on Valentine’s Day may be traced to that century. At first people made their own hand written greeting cards which came to be known as ‘valentines’. Commercial cards were not printed until the early nineteenth century. Many early valentines were blank so that the sender could write a message. The British artist Kate greenway became famous for her valentines in the late nineteenth century.
In the United States of America a woman named Esther Howland became one of the first manufacturers of valentines in mid-nineteenth century. She began the practice of producing valentine greeting cards for the market and thus initiated commercialisation of Valentine’s Day. Since then handwritten valentines have largely given way to mass-produced greeting cards and Valentine’s Day has become the second-largest greeting card-sending holiday in the United States after only Christmas.
The early hand painted valentines represented a fat cupid or showed arrows piercing a heart. Many cards had satin ribbon or lace and were decorated with dry flowers or other fancy items. These cards also had romantic or funny verses. The content of the valentine greeting cards have successively undergone changes and improved over the years. Modern Valentine’s Day symbols include the heart shaped outlines, doves and the figures of the winged Cupid.
Compared to the western world, the celebration of Valentine’s Day is a recent phenomenon in India, especially in the urban areas. With liberalization and globalization since late twentieth century, Valentine’s Day celebration has caught the imagination and fancy of the young people in India.
However, as the day is associated with a Christian Saint, Valentine and the custom of celebrating the day as the manifestation of love and affection in public by exchanging greeting cards, gifts and flowers and attending dance parties and discos is considered to be purely western, the fundamentalists who claim to be the ‘moral custodians’ of India have been targeting the celebration of Valentine’s day since around a decade. The fundamentalist and obscurantist groups such as Shiv Sena, Ram Sene and Bajrang Dal activists have been vandalizing shops and malls selling valentines and gifts and intimidating young couples found together in public places such as parks, beaches or even restaurants or multiplexes.
It is indeed a sorry state of affairs that people are being targeted by the fanatic and reactionary forces for being together to celebrate one of the finest human emotions that too in symbolic way by just being together and exchanging greetings, gifts and flowers.
(From different sources)