What’s Cupid got to do with it?
We can thank the Romans for Valentine’s Day. The Romans were a highly religious group. Their military success was attributed to a great relationship with many gods, and as Christianity emerged around the Roman Empire, their leaders were quick to condemn this new way of thinking.
Believing in a single God was simply not a part of their military, political or social framework. Eventually around the 4th century, Constantine I became the first emperor to convert to Christianity, as he found it was easier to appease one God rather than a myriad of eclectestial temperaments.
Around the year 270 A.D., a priest named Valentine lived near the pagan city of Rome. Valentine helped Christians escape Roman persecution and provided sacraments, including marriage. At the time, the Romans outlawed marriage, as it was believed that married men did not make good soldiers.
Roman Emperor Claudius II arrested Valentine and personally sat with him to persuade him to denounce Christianity and convert to the ancient Roman beliefs and pagan ways. Instead, Valentine attempted to convert Claudius. This was too much for the emperor so he had Valentine killed. Thus, Valentine died a martyr and was eventually declared a saint by the church.
Sainthood, however, required the performance of a miracle. Before Valentine was executed, he achieved just that. His jailer, Asterius, had a blind daughter named Julia, and with a wave of a hand, Valentine returned her eyesight. This act was enough for Asterius to convince his entire family of 40 to convert, and they were all baptized.
On a personal note, my mother used to cut-out red hearts and line them with white-lace paper every Valentine’s Day, sending me a Valentine’s right up until the year she died. I was in my mid-forties. Even this tradition can be traced back to Valentine, who cut out hearts from parchment and gave them to the soldiers, reminding them to be good Christians.
In subsequent years, there were quite a few Saint Valentines and their acts of martyrdom were recorded in ancient texts. The collective date given for a variety of acts, including miracles, providing sacrament and cutting out hearts from parchment paper, was February 14.
One last tidbit. On the evening before Valentine was to be executed, he wrote a card to Asterius’s daughter, signing it “your Valentine”. Legend further states that Valentine was buried at the Church of Praxedes in Rome, where Julia planted a pink-blossomed almond tree near his grave. The tree is still there and represents a symbol of love and friendship.
And Cupid? Cupid is the son of the love goddess Venus and was considered the god of desire, affection and erotic love. Cupid carried a bow and arrow, and when shot, one was overcome with uncontrollable desire. Cupid had a strong role in Roman pagan ritual and today is an icon of Valentine’s Day.
Given the powerful sexual allure of Valentine’s Day, one might expect a rise in birth rates around late October/early November. Not so. In 2010, more babies were born in September, followed by August, June and July. No doubt that the onset of winter plays a more significant role in birth months then the eve of spring. Happy Valentine’s Day!