It is February and love is in the air. Breathing is inescapable (except for the few minutes that you can hold your breath). No one can hide from the lingering sweetness brought by the cool breeze. The only thing some of us can wish for is that by the end of the month or the mid-month at least the sweetness would be gone with the wind. To all those out there whether in a relationship, single, married, engaged, or in an “its complicated” status, let us all welcome Valentine’s Day by knowing the origins of the common symbols and traditions observed in the said festivity.
10. The Date
On February 14 each year, people across the globe celebrate Valentine’s Day. The origin of the celebration appears to date as far back as the Lupercalia, a feast of fertility dedicated to Faunus, the Roman god of agriculture. Within that festival, the names of women were placed inside a big urn from which each man then choose a name and become paired for a year with the woman he had chosen.
Another plausible reason is the old belief in medieval France and England that February 14 was the beginning of the mating season of birds. From these traditions arose the concept that Valentine’s Day is definitively associated with love.
While it is well accepted that February 14 is a day of hearts and roses, it is not entirely so because it is also the date when Saint Valentine was executed for defying the order of Emperor Claudius II prohibiting the performance of marriages.
February is the time when chocolate manufacturers sell the most. This is not without reason because chocolates are long known to be aphrodisiacs. The term “aphrodisiac” comes from Aphrodite, the goddess of love who was said to be born of the sea foam after Cronus attacked Uranus with a sickle, castrating him, and throwing his testicles into the sea . Aphrodisia is the festival celebrated in honor of Aphrodite.
What make chocolate an aphrodisiac are its chemical components called serotonin , a chemical involved in sexual arousal, and Phenylethylamine, a stimulant that is released in the brain when people fall in love or become infatuated.
While the tradition of displaying acts of love on Valentine’s Day has ancient Roman origin, the practice of giving chocolates contained in a heart-shaped box only emerged recently. In 1824, John Cadbury opened a cocoa and drinking chocolate business which later expanded into chocolate manufacturing. In 1861, John’s health rapidly declined which prompted him to finally retire and hand over complete control of the business to his sons Richard and George who were just 25 and 21 years old, respectively. Richard greatly increased the sales by packing the chocolates in what is known as the world’s first heart-shaped chocolate boxes for Valentine’s Day.
Cupid, the counterpart of the Greek god Eros, is often portrayed as a winged infant wielding a bow and arrow. He is the god of love, and not just a random baby lovers magically create on the eve of the celebration. He is the son of Mercury, the messenger of the gods, and Venus, the goddess of love. One shot of Cupid’s arrow makes people fall in love.
In one interesting tale, Venus became so jealous of the mortal named Psyche because the latter was so beautiful that men started worshiping her. Venus instructed Cupid to pierce the mortal girl with an arrow to make her fall in love with the most hideous man alive (it is interesting to note that Venus is married to Hephaestus, the ugliest god). The plan backfired when Cupid shot himself with the arrow.
In many fairy tales, kissing is the secret to a happy ending. Snow White and Sleeping Beauty would not have woken up if not for the kisses of true love. It seems that when the princes saw their princesses they automatically knew that their kisses will bring them to life. However, in reality, this is not the case. There are studies that suggest that kissing is not universal among human beings and that it is neither innate nor intuitive. This means that kissing is not accepted in other cultures; in some instances it is even considered as “gross” as in the case of the Mehinaku tribe in Brazil.
The oldest evidence of a kissing-like act dates back 3,500 years ago. It can be found in Hindu Vedic Sanskrit texts in India whereby it was described as “inhaling each other’s soul”. It can also be found in the ancient Hindu text, Kama Sutra, which dates back to the 2nd century. It is believed that the act of kissing spread to the West in 326 BC after Alexander the Great invaded India.
If we were to look solely on the Hindu texts, it would seem that kissing originated from India but it is not necessarily the case because it was already being done during the 9th century BC although with different connotation as can be gleaned from the book of Homer as when King Priam kissed the hand of Achilles to plead for the return of his son’s cadaver.
6. Valentine’s Card
One of the commonly observed customs on Valentine’s Day is the exchange of paper greeting cards known as “valentines”. Lovers would usually decorate their cards with romantic symbols such as hearts, flowers, and, bow and arrow. Children would often give their teachers and parents with letters as sign of appreciation and love.
The practice of giving greeting cards is said to have been derived from the drawn-lot ceremony, an event in the Lupercalia feast, in which mottoes were selected from an urn. While there are disputes as to who sent the first valentine card, historians claim that St. Valentine himself sent a letter signed “From your Valentine”, an expression that is still in use today, to his jailor’s daughter a day before he was executed.
The British Library in London holds the oldest known surviving valentine, a poem written in 1415 by Charles, Duke of Orleans, to his wife while he was imprisoned in the Tower of London.
Although there are many types of flowers and many of them have its corresponding meanings, the rose is undeniably the star of the celebration. Based on a Roman myth, while Cupid was on his way to Mt. Olympus, he spilled on the ground some sweet nectar from the vase he was carrying. From the spot where the nectar was spilled, roses grew.
Another legend is the story about Rodanthe. She was a very beautiful maiden who hid in the temple of Diana, goddess of the woodlands, of wild animals, and of hunting, in an attempt to escape the pursuit of her suitors. The suitors broke the gates of the temple of Diana. This enraged the goddess so she turned Rodanthe into a white rose, and her suitors into thorns.
Another one is the tragic love story between Venus, goddess of love and beauty, and Adonis, a mortal. Adonis was killed in the course of his hunting. While Venus wept for the death of her lover, her tears fell on the ground. The spot where her tears fell caused roses to bloom.
4. Lovebirds and Doves
Have you ever heard of the adage “there is no such thing as a perfect couple”? Well, there are few exceptions. Lovebirds and doves are some of it.
It is said that lovebirds got their names because they sit closely beside each other whenever they are sleeping or resting. They are monogamous creatures who are fiercely loyal to their partners.
Like lovebirds, doves stick to their partners throughout their lifetimes and are also recognized symbols of love and loyalty. For these reasons, doves are released during wedding ceremonies and are used as designs in many Valentine greeting cards.
The letters “XOXO” placed at the end of a letter do not in any way suggest a game of tic-tac-toe. This highly used binary love code means “hugs and kisses” wherein “X” refers to “kiss” and “O” pertains to “hug”.
Where did these symbols come from? There are several theories of why “X” has come to represent a kiss. The more popular explanation is that “X” is a stylized representation of two mouths touching each other. Another hypothesis is that according to “The Science of Kissing: What Our Lips Are Telling Us” By Sheril Kirshenbaum, “It was during the Middle Ages that a businesslike kiss was employed as a legal way to seal contracts and business agreements. Many men did not know how to read and write, so they would draw an “X” on the line and kiss it to make it legal. This carried over into the way we write “X” today to symbolize a kiss, as well as the expression “sealed with a kiss.” The kiss between a bride and groom was also viewed as marking a kind of legal business agreement, crystallizing all the responsibilities marriage entailed.”
As to the letter “O”, tracing its origin as to how it came to signify a hug proves to be more challenging. From the bird’s eye view, it may look like two persons hugging each other. In an unconfirmed theory proposed by Leo Rosten in his book “Joys of Yiddish”, it is said that illiterate Jewish storekeepers and peddlers used an “O” sign instead of an “X” to check off payments from their customers. This is because “X” reminds them of a cross which for them represented their execution and persecution.
2. Teddy Bear
The Teddy bear is a favorite among young couples. It may be given as is or it may also be placed in the middle of a bouquet of flowers. This adorable cuddly synthetic creature was named after the U.S. President, Theodore Roosevelt.
In 1902, Theodore Roosevelt was invited by Mississippi Governor, Andrew H. Longino, in a hunting trip. Because Roosevelt failed to spot a bear, what the guides did was that they clubbed and tied a bear to a willow tree so that the President can shoot it. Roosevelt refused saying that it was unsportsmanlike to kill a defenseless animal.
Upon learning the story, political cartoonist Clifford Berryman drew a depiction of the event. The cartoon was published in the Washington Post on November 16, 1902.
A Brooklyn, NY candy shop owner, Morris Michtom, came up with the idea of teddy bears after seeing the cartoon of Berryman. His wife sewed two teddy bears which he placed in the window of his shop. He then asked President Roosevelt for permission to call it “Teddy bears”.
Valentine’s Day is never complete without the visible presence of the universally recognized emblem of love and affection: the heart, which as we all know looks nothing like real human hearts. So, how did the infamous shape became the symbol of a profound characterization?
One theory suggests that it was modeled after a cow’s heart which was more readily available in sight in the past than a human heart. Others say that it was patterned after some anatomical features of women such as breasts and buttocks. Another compelling theory is that it was derived from the shape of the seed of the Silphium, a plant known for its contraceptive powers but is now extinct. According to legends, Roman Emperor Nero was the owner of the last known surviving stalk of Silphium.