Uniting the world with love
Many cultures around the world, both past and present, have at least a variation of Valentine's Day, unifying cultures with love in mid-February. In a commercialized world that is constantly focused on what makes us different, it is useful to also recognize where our holiday traditions come from and how societies are similar.
Though some hold the view that Hallmark and Hershey created Valentine's Day for profit, there has been a tradition of a day to celebrate love, or St. Valentine, since ancient times. In the era of the Roman Empire, February 14th was a holiday to honor Juno, whom many regarded as the goddess of women and marriage. February 15th then began the Feast of Lupercalia, which celebrates fertility.
Other legends of the origin of Valentine's Day revolve around Saint Valentine, who lived in Rome in the time of Emperor Claudius II. In order to better recruit soldiers for his expansive army who didn't want to leave their wives, Claudius officially ended all marriages. Saint Valentine fought against this act by secretly marrying couples, despite violent punishment from Claudius. St. Valentine was ultimately put to death on February 14th, and thus the day was made to commemorate his dedication to love.
Today the holiday has turned away from the religious Saint and obviously has been commercialized by adapting to modern culture. The day can now commemorate all variations of love, not exclusively romantic love, which allows people from very young to very old age to appreciate it.
Many traditions that are still recognized today have roots in the past. In Rome, people would draw names out of a bowl to see who their Valentine would be for the festivals. They would pin the name on their sleeve to demonstrate their keenness for this person and the phrase "wearing your heart on your sleeve" derived from this ancient practice.
Historical cultures were not aware of the heart's true function, but noticed that it beat faster when a person was excited or upset. While we know now scientifically that emotions come from the brain, the heart has remained a powerful symbol for love and strong emotion, serving as a representation of Valentines Day and emotions.
Many cultures on a worldwide scale, even those not directly affected by the Roman Empire's rule, have a celebration similar to Valentine's Day. Australia's younger population is leading the way in celebrating the day by sending cards and having parties or dances to get together with friends. Interestingly, men in Australia purchase more cards than women; while in America 85 percent of valentines are, in fact, purchased by women.
In China, the day has origins beyond simply praying at the temple of the matchmaker for a happy marriage. Single women also pray for skills and knowledge to demonstrate that she is mature enough for marriage. Women might participate in exhibitions of some of their domestic skills such as weaving or melon carving.
Another interesting variation of the Valentine's Day tradition is in Japanese culture. On February 14th a woman buys chocolate for men that she sees regularly, the man she is serious about romantically and also for her girl friends. Then, on March 14th, men who received chocolate are allowed to return the favor by buying chocolate for the women.
No matter your personal Valentine's Day traditions, it's nice to know the origins of the holiday's customs reach back to ancient times; if for no other reason but to validate that it was not solely invented by the card and candy companies.
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