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Valentine's Day between myth, religion and popular culture

"What are you doing on Valentine's Day?"


Surely you have received or asked this question at least once, especially to your friends that are in a relationship. But where does the most romantic day of the year come from? And how is it celebrated?

From Friends to How I Met Your Mother, from The Big Bang Theory to Glee to the film “Valentine’s Day": TV series, movies, books, commercials and the whole Internet are filled with hearts for February 14th.

A holiday that entered the collective imagination with red hearts, flowers, chocolates, gifts, romantic dinners and a cute Cupid ready to shoot his arrows.

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Un post condiviso da Friends (@friends)

Have you ever wondered how, when, and why this holiday, recognized almost all over the world, was born? And who is Saint Valentine?

Although there are several myths and legends about its origins, it is no surprise that the feast of love has its roots in a pagan festival celebrated in the Ancient Rome and later "christianized" by Pope Gelasius I in 496.

However, it is to Valentino di Terni that the party owes its name, a bishop and Christian martyr who died on February 14th, famous for being able to reconcile couples in crisis by encouraging them to have children. A true protector of lovers who used to give flowers to couples (so they say).

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Un post condiviso da How I Met Your Mother (@howimetyourmotherthefanpage)

Although this explains the religious aspect of the holiday, there is also a more curious pagan story behind it. In fact, it is thought that the meaning attributed to February 14th comes from the Lupercalia: Roman celebrations linked to the death and rebirth of nature that recreated a condition of first-born chaos through processions, masks and rituals. This ancient celebration was certainly closely linked to the theme of fertility and motherhood, recalling in its name the legend of Romulus and Remus raised by a wolf.

But how did the tradition we know today spread?

The medieval literature did surely its part. The English Geoffrey Chaucer, author of the best known "The Canterbury Tales", associates Valentine's Day with Cupid and lovers for the first time in the dream poem "The Parliament of the Foules" in the 1300s. Not only, even the romantic and tragic at the same time Shakespear in his masterpiece "Hamlet" refers to the tradition: "Tomorrow is Saint Valentine's Day. All in the morning betime. And I am made at your window to be your valentinesings Ophelia in her madness.

In the Anglo-Saxon countries there is a widespread use of considering the partner as one's "valentine", paying homage to them with love cards. The phenomenon spread so much to the point of becoming commercial, in fact it is estimated by the Greeting Card Association that every 14th of February almost a billion cards are bought and sent, a record beaten only by those of Christmas. Then, cards were replaced with dinners, bouquets of flowers, chocolates and special gifts.

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Un post condiviso da Greeting Card Association (@gca_uk)

Before moving on to how Valentine's Day is celebrated today, in 2022, let's take a tour around the world.

In Japan the roles are exchanged and tradition has it that it is the woman who gifts something to the man, as well as in South Korea, even if here the 14th of each month is dedicated to love (attention: April 14th is dedicated to single!). In Scandinavia, Finland and Estonia, February 14 is dedicated to friends and friendship, while very recently, in the Shiite city of Najaf in Iraq, any type of celebration due to the anniversary was blocked by the authorities who involved the police. In other countries, the day dedicated to lovers is simply celebrated on a different date.

And in Italy?

We have certainly been influenced by English and American culture: for years now, clubs and restaurants have been organizing evenings for Valentine's Day. Speaking with my friends who are in a relationship, however, it emerged that not all couples celebrate Valentine's Day, or rather, they do not celebrate it as described in movies and TV series. In fact, a simple wish, a thought, some flowers and an intimate dinner, even at home, is enough.

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Un post condiviso da PIETRO (@pietro.terzini)

Those who go out to celebrate seem to be singles, who have now overpassed Bridget Jones' "All by myself" phase, but take the occasion as an excuse to justify an evening of alcohol and lightheartedness.

It will be interesting to witness who will actually be around on the evening of February 14th and what the general mood will be: for example, I am going out with my single friends for dinner, and Bridget is ready to immediately turn into Samantha Jones who with Carrie, Miranda and Charlotte enjoys a drink in an exclusive club in New York.

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Un post condiviso da Sex and The City (@satclines)

And you, what are you doing on Valentine's Day?