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On the Origin of Valentine’s Day

  Every year on the 14th February girls all across Japan, in a sense of annual obligation, commemorate Saint Valentine's Day by giving chocolates to boys of their acquaintance. For the most part, in the rest of the world, the obligation is the opposite; it is boys who feel compelled to give girls heart shaped boxes of chocolates, romantic greetings cards, and bouquets of roses. Putting aside this strange reversal of roles, that distinguishes Japanese Valentine’s Day from the rest of the world, have you ever wondered the origin of this celebration of friendship and love? To answer this question we need to appreciate two stories from ancient European history.

  Our first story will require us to go back more than 2,500 years to “pre-Christian Rome”, and it begins with a wolf, a cave and two small boys. Legend has it that around 500 BC a “she-wolf” or Lupa (as the ancient Romans would have called it) lived in a cave near the Tiber River, which ancient Romans referred to as Lupercal (meaning the cave of the “she-wolf”). The legend tells us that one day the she-wolf found two small boys abandoned beside the river, which she took back to her cave and suckled.
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  The story continues that one day the boys and the she-wolf were discovered in their cave by a shepherd named Faustulus. In turn, the shepherd took the boys home, and he and his wife raised them. The legend goes on to tell us that when the two boys, whom Faustulus named Romulus and Remus, grew up, they founded the city of Rome.
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  In commemoration for the legendary birth of their city, the citizens of ancient Rome established a fertility (erotic or sexual love) festival that became known as the Lupercalia or “festival of the she-wolf’s cave”. So called because the festival was originally celebrated near what was believed to be the cave of the she-wolf.
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  Moreover, preparation for the annual celebration of Lupercalia required the task of cleaning or purifying of the she-wolf’s cave. Over the years the cleaning in preparation for Lupercalia became itself a very important activity, which ancient Romans referred to as Februalia (purification), In fact, the Februalia became so important that ancient Romans dedicated an entire month to purification, which they called Februarius.
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  Our present day calendar derives the name for the month of February from this ancient legend, and even today the annual event of spring cleaning is still very much a part of European culture. Moreover, the ancient Romans required that the festival of Lupercalia be celebrated on three days in the middle of Februarius, traditionally from the 13th to 15th. So, we can learn from this story that the middle of February has long been associated with celebrating fertility, that is to say sexual love.
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  The second story that we need to absorb, also from ancient European, explains how the Lupercalia celebration of fertility and sex became associated with the name Valentine. This story takes place several hundred years after the legend of Lupercalia. Moreover, it involves actual historical people as opposed to being merely a legend like the story of the she-wolf. We pick up this story in the early Christian-era of Rome, a time in Europe when Christianity was slowly but surely becoming a very powerful religion. In 268 AD Claudius II became the emperor of Rome. Claudius held the belief that his married soldiers spent too much time thinking of their families and not enough time training for battle, which made his army weak. So, in the hope of making his men more capable soldiers, he prohibited them from falling in love, getting married and starting families. Of course, these restrictions on love and marriage were not very popular with young many people, who were prone to fall in love and often desired to get married. Thus, some young lovers attempted to disobey the emperor, and they were often aided by a certain Christian bishop. He believed love and marriage were scared blessings from God, and as such could not be prohibited by the emperor. His name was Bishop Valentine, and he performed many secret marriage ceremonies for young soldiers in opposition to the emperor. When Emperor Claudius discovered that Valentine was disregarding his ban on marriage, he ordered the bishop to be put to death. And so it was that the good Bishop Valentine was killed because he had gone against the will of the emperor.
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  In the course of time, with the rise of Christianity, and the decline of the Roman Empire, many ancient Roman festivals were replaced by new Christian ones. However, the ancient festivals were still very popular with the people of Rome, so the newly created Christian festivals often attempted to maintain the same general themes of the ones they replaced. Whereas, ancient festivals, such as Lupercalia, may have involved fertility or sexual celebrations, Christian festivals were meant to honor God or saints, people who dedicated their lives to God. Christians, with their religious focus completely on God, deleted any association of sex or bodily pleasures in their festivals. The story of Bishop Valentine, who had been murdered by Emperor Claudius for aiding young couples with the blessings of love and marriage, thus, became a suitable replacement for the ancient legend of the she-wolf and the sexual celebrations of Lupercalia. In 496 AD, the now dominant Catholic Church declared Bishop Valentine to be a saint, and dedicated a special day in his honor. The three-day festival of Lupercalia, traditionally celebrated on the 13th, 14th, and 15th days of Februarius, was reduced to a single day on the Christian calendar, created to commemorate the “romantic love” that Bishop Valentine had once aided. And so it is, every year on 14th of February we continue this tradition of celebrating friendship and love, on a day we call Saint Valentine’s Day.
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教授 ジョン オーエン
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by bwukokusai | 2015-02-10 09:00 | 教員コラム