Beheadings, forbidden love, and a fat little kid: the truth of Valentine’s Day?

Are sweet heart shaped candy all there is to Valentine's Day?

Valentine’s Day is a day of small angels in togas with arrows that can make you fall in love at first sight. It’s a day where saying “I love you” to anyone isn’t really that uncommon — unless it’s a random person walking down the hallway. Couples couple up, single people lament or rejoice over their fate, and everyone anticipates the valentines they’ll get — hoping that they’ll be full of cheesy sayings and chocolate confections. Yet where did Valentine’s Day really come from? What don’t we know? A simple Google search can reveal all — or you can just read through this article.

Let’s start off with something that this writer hopes most people know: the origins of Cupid. The arrow-toting, love spinning, mischievous cherub that’s become a trademark of Valentine’s Day started off as a Roman demigod.

According to Roman mythology, he was the son of Venus and a rarely mentioned human. Venus, also known as Aphrodite, was recorded as the goddess of love, infatuation, and affection; therefore it only makes sense that her son would have something to do in the finer arts of human emotion as well.

The sly little mischief-maker was originally depicted as a teenager with wings. The chubby little angel we all know didn’t appear until the Romans adopted the Greek beliefs and changed the gods and goddesses around. That’s when the little Hallmark symbol of Valentine’s Day shrunk down into a chubby ten-year-old and started carrying his infamous bow and heart-tipped arrows.

Other parts of Valentine’s Day are muddled, mixed, and completely vague. Historians know that there was a saint in the Catholic church known as Saint Valentine, or Bishop Saint Valentinus. Though, there have been disputes over whether the holiday’s name sake is, in fact, two people instead of one.

That’s the reason why on the Catholic calendar of saints, Valentinus isn’t included in the martyrdom that was, supposedly, his life. Some historical accounts attribute Valentinus’ death with a highly notorious highway in the Roman Era: Via Flaminia — a long stretch of road that connected Rome with a moderately-sized port town on the Adriatic Sea. Some say he was accosted by robbers, others say he fell off the Ponte Milvio bridge before he even left Rome! Now that’d definitely put a damper on things.

Other accounts say that during a time of great Christian oppression by the Romans, Valentine(us — Valentinus…Valentine…for all intents and purposes here, they’re the same person) was beheaded on the orders of Roman Emperor Cladius II Gothicus.

Most assumed that he would have just been thrown into the Coliseum to duke it out with other unfortunate captives and gladiators — Gothicus had a different vision in mind for the future saint. After being beaten soundly with a club (or so one story goes), it was “off with his head!” and an example was set for all the other Christians in Rome at the time.

What was it that the saint did to deserve such a fate? Many believe it was the way he helped soldiers marry when they knew it was illegal. In a way, Valentine was the cupid personification for many soldiers who thought love was unattainable after joining the army. Perhaps this is where the idea of Valentine’s Day being full of love came from, and the mysterious connection to today’s Hallmark holiday and the actual time of the saint.

The legend is that Valentinus was going behind Emporer Cladius II’s back and marrying young soldiers and their lovers illegally. Evidently the emporer had made a law that the younger soldiers were not to marry, but to join the army.

Obviously, Valentine didn’t agree and provided marriage ceremonies without permission. He was thrown into prison and put on death row for his crimes against Cladius II. He was later beheaded for that offense.

Unless you believe that he fell in love with the jailer’s daughter. That legend says that after he cured her of an illness right before he was executed, he sent her a card that read: “From your Valentine.”

Of course, these events were long before Hallmark got a hold of Valentine’s day later in the centuries. The Kansas-based company disagrees with the phrase “a Hallmark holiday” that most — if not all — Americans are familiar with.

Valentine’s Day is the one holiday that people think of most when Hallmark is mentioned. After all, who would celebrate the death of a saint with chocolates and roses, cards and kisses? Not to discredit the ingenious minds of Hallmark, but I feel like through the hazy sweet rush of soft words and even softer candies, the true dark past of Valentine’s Day was lost to us. Now that you know the shallow truth of Cupid’s Holiday, perhaps you can make your own distinctions about The Day of Saint Valentinus.

How much do you know about Valentine’s Day? After reading this, I’m hoping more than the average person.


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