We’ve all heard that the day is named after a certain St. Valentine. But who was St. Valentine? The Catholic Church recognises at least three martyred saints named Valentine or Valentinus. The most famous Valentine of them all is said to be a Roman priest who was martyred for marrying soldiers in secret, because the Emperor had decreed that soldiers shall not be allowed to marry. Multiple legends and myths about him and other Valentines make it difficult to pin down the exact Valentine who puts the V in V-Day.
Many say that the V-Day was born as a part of the Christian Europe’s effort to overshadow a Pagan festival Lupercalia which was celebrated on 15 February to drive out evil spirits from the city and unleash health and fertility. What is interesting is that V-Day wasn’t associated with romantic love until much later. Common exchanging of love notes between friends and lovers didn’t begin until the 17th-18th centuries. Even today, in the folk cultures of England, Slovenia, etc V-Day is associated not with romantic love but with the beginning of spring, health and a season to gift children.
While roses and red remain two most universal symbols for the V-Day, there are many other customary ways to express love on V-Day across the world. In Denmark, white flowers called snowdrops and an anonymously signed joke-letter are the most customary V-Day exchanges. In Italy, the most common V-Day gifts are chocolate hazelnuts wrapped with romantic quotes printed in multiple languages. In South Africa, it’s common for women to literally wear their hearts on their sleeves by pinning their lovers’ names on their shirt!
Recently, V-Day has caused lot of controversy in India. Traditionalists claim that it is a western import!. To be sure, the history of V-Day celebrations in India does date back more or less to the time when India opened up its doors to the globalisation in the early 1990’s due to the economic reforms of 1991. With shopping malls, MTV, Archie’s and eventually the internet also came the Valentine’s Day celebrations. But does that make V-Day un-Indian? Well, only as much as perhaps the internet, the TV and the malls.
Although commonly defined as an ‘annual holiday/festival’, the V-Day is not an officially recognised holiday in any of the major countries it is celebrated in, be it the UK or the USA, Australia and Canada. In fact, in 1969, the Catholic Church took the V-Day off its list of official holidays because its origins have been quite unclear and the day itself is not really an established part of the Catholic beliefs.