April 01, 2023

COLUMN: Love across time and space

When people think of Valentine’s Day, they often think of flowers and chocolates given by a significant other. However, that’s not how Valentine’s Day started. There was a lot more death and horror associated with Valentine’s Day back in the beginning years.

There are a couple of theories as to how Valentine’s Day started. One involves the pagan holiday Lupercalia, celebrated by the Romans from Feb. 13-15. In order to increase fertility, the men would sacrifice goats and dogs. The men would then take parts of the hide of the sacrifices and use them to whip the women lined up outside. This whipping supposedly brought fertility on to the women. The men would then choose a woman’s name from a jar to be coupled with during the festival, often eventually marrying.

Another possible origin for Valentine’s Day involves Saint Valentine. In the third century during the reign of Roman Emperor Claudius II, marriage was outlawed in order to strengthen the Roman soldiers and take away any ties to home. Saint Valentine was a Christian priest who continued to perform marriages in secret. He was later put to death for this supposed indiscretion.

A third possible beginning for this holiday also involves a man named Valentine, who had been imprisoned by the Romans for helping Christians escape prison. People claim that it was in prison that Valentine sent the first “valentine,” where he sent a letter to a girl he was in love with, signed “From your Valentine,” before he was put to death.

According to History.com, the first record of Valentine’s Day is found in a 1375 poem by famous poet Geoffrey Chaucer, in which he says “For this was sent on Seynt Valentyne’s Day / Whan every foul cometh ther to choose his mate.” This holiday was thus celebrated before this time.

Valentine’s Day continued being celebrated, gaining popularity in the monetary sense in the early 1800s, when British printers began creating paper valentines with verses and drawings, later ones containing lace and ribbons. Chocolate was introduced by Cadbury in the mid 1800s and quickly became a staple part of the holiday.

While in the U.S. we celebrate Valentine’s Day the way the British traditionally celebrated it, that isn’t so around the world. In Denmark, gaekkebrev (joke letters) are sent instead of love letters. Names are not signed, but if the recipient correctly guesses who sent the letter, they are gifted an egg during the Easter season.

In Japan, there are two separate holidays related to Valentine’s Day. February 14 is when women give chocolate to their loved ones. There are two types of chocolate, Giri choco, which is for non-romantic love, and Honmei choco, which is for romantic love. Men are expected to reciprocate on March 14, called White Day, this time with more expensive gifts. Koreans follow this same tradition, but add Black Day on April 14, when singles get together, wear black and eat jajangmyeon, noodles with a black sauce.

In Germany, the pig is a symbol of love. Pig-shaped gifts are exchanged, along with flowers, chocolates and heart-shaped ginger cookies with romantic phrases written in icing. Valentine’s Day is celebrated specifically by adults, not children.

In the Philippines, the government hosts free mass weddings. Every year, hundreds of Filipinos are married, from age 18 to people in their 80s. Mayors are given the power to officiate these events, called “Kasalang Panlungsod” or “Kasalang Bayan,” meaning wedding of the city or wedding of the town.

Finally, in Catalonia in Spain, the locals celebrate love on another day, Día de Sant Jordi. This day is celebrated on April 23, in honor of Sant Jordi, or Saint George. Men are supposed to gift flowers to women they love, while women should gift books to men they love.

Erin Henze

Originally from Wisconsin, Erin is a recent graduate from UW-Stevens Point. Outside of writing, she loves to read and travel.