Italian Holiday Traditions – The Origins of Valentine's Day
Valentine's Day is one of my favorite festive occasions. A romantic soul finds escape, on this day, from an otherwise cynical world. In many ways San Valentino is like Christmas. Perhaps the preconceptions of what is acceptable on Valentine’s Day make us, even if only for one day, think about love and passion. Work is less important and we somehow find time to dedicate our most precious gift to those we love. A gift certificate is not an acceptable thought for Valentine’s Day. The very nature of the holiday requires that we think about the person we love. It is great.
I am always amazed and intrigued at the information I find while I search for the origins of the festivities we celebrate. Each time I become more convinced that we need more balance in our lives and a greater understanding of whom we are. San Valentino is an antique ritual. Originally it the ritual lasted an entire year. The Lupercalia, celebration of fertility, was dedicated to the God Lupercus. The men and women who believed in Lupercus would write their names on a piece of paper. The names would then be placed into a jar and mixed well. A child would then extract the name of a man and a woman. These would then live together “in intimacy” for the entire year. The following year the ritual would be repeated. The first recorded festivities date back to 400 BC.
Today San Valentino takes its name from Saint Valentine of Terni, a town close to Rome. In 273 AD the Catholic Church was becoming more powerful and was influencing the cultural habits of the Roman citizens. Obviously the Lupercalia, a swinger’s party lasting an entire year, was not in line with the religious teachings of the church. The Bishop of Terni, San Valentino, went to the Emperor Claudio II to convince the all-powerful Roman leader to abandon his pagan beliefs and convert to Christianity. The Emperor instead encouraged San Valentino to renounce his Christian beliefs. San Valentino refused. He was imprisoned, skinned alive and decapitated by order of the Emperor on February 14, 273 AD at the ripe old age of 98.
To tie this all together, it is said that while in the Emperor’s dungeons he fell in love with the blind daughter of one of the guards. On the day of his death she received the miracle of sight because of her intense love and adoration. San Valentino had written a note declaring his eternal love and signing “your Valentino”.
Well, we have traded a year of “intimacy” for a day of cards, letters, chocolates and roses. I am ok with that and I love Valentine’s Day. For a full month of San Valentino try visiting Terni in the month of February.
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