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St. Valentine’s Day

Valentine’s Day, February 14, is sweethearts’ day – when people in love express their affection for each other in gay and merry ways. But in whatever form, the message is the same – “Will you be my valentine?”
Valentines used to be reserved for young lover, but nowadays grandparents, cousins, friends or even acquaintances of any age take the occasion to express their affection through a small gift or a card from the assortment found at every stationery-store, book-shop and news-stand. In whimsical verse Ogden Nash nostalgically recalls the “good old days” when everything was simpler: “ All you had to do was take a sheet of paper and draw a heart with an arrow through it carrying the word “I love you”, and sign it “Guess who and shove it under the front door of your only beloved and ring the bell and run like a rabbit. One girl, one Valentine, and that was it”.
The custom of celebrating St. Valentine Day can be traced to those festivals, called Lupercalia. There were games and dancing and then each young man drew from an urn the name of the young maiden who would be his sweetheart for the coming year. February 14, the Roman date of the Festival, thus became a day for young lovers. After the introduction of Christianity, pagan customs were suppressed, but the festivals continued, and in the seventh century it began to be called St Valentine Day.
The origin of the name remains in doubt. Some historians link it to Valentine who became the patron saint of lovers after he was imprisoned by Emperor Claudius for secretly marrying couples contrary to the Emperor’s order. Others say the name is a corruption of the French word “galantin” (a gallant or beau). And one further theory is that February 14 was chosen because birds traditionally began to mate on that day. Whatever the origin, Valentine’s Day has had and romantic history. The Roman conquerors carried the celebration to England, where pagan and Christian customs combined to form some of the enduring traditions. One was that the first person you saw on Valentine’s Day would be your valentine. We know the custom was well established in Shakespeare’s time, for Ophelia wanted to be “betime” at Hamlet’s window. She sang:

“To-morrow is Saint Valentine’s day,

All in the morning betime,

And I a maid at your window,

To be your valentine!”

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