Celebrating a Month of Legend, Love, and Sobering Myth

Many celebrations we embrace as children and carry forward into adulthood are often a combination of history, mythology, urban legend, pesky marketing, creative capitalism and wishful thinking. Clearly the most popular and misunderstood of these celebrations is Saint Valentine’s Day, held annually on February 14. But there’s far more than just Valentine’s Day rituals being celebrated in February, and many are worth noting and observing.

To start, Black History Month, or National African American History Month, is an annual celebration of achievements by black Americans, and a time for recognizing the central role of African Americans in U.S. history. The event grew out of “Negro History Week,” first designated by historian Carter G. Woodson and other prominent African Americans. Since 1976, every U.S. president has officially designated the month of February as Black History Month. Other countries around the world, including Canada and the United Kingdom, also devote a month to celebrating black history.

But the second month of the year also is an acknowledgment of other activities and historical links, some offbeat, some serious. For example, February is Marijuana Awareness Month, National Condom Month, American Heart Month, Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month, Oral Hygiene Month, and Grapefruit Month.

On the 12th of February, Diana, the Roman goddess of hunt, was said to spread her protection from the forests near Aricia (her shrine) to the entire world. As a result, those born on this day are said to be highly personable and friendly. The month itself is named after “Februa,” an ancient purification ritual of Rome that took place on February 15th of our calendar.

Additionally, February 16th is the Day of the Devil’s Dance. On this date, a sorcerer of Tibet was called upon to exorcise demons and evil spirits from the local population.

The February birthstone is the Amethyst. Its color is a deep purple, and the ancient Greeks associated this stone with the ability to detoxify an individual. Amethyst comes from the Greek work “amethystos,” which literally translates into “sober.” Ironically, the stone often was made into goblets for drinking wine.

And finally, in an interesting turn of the paper heart, the week prior to Valentine’s Day is called “National Dump Your Significant Jerk Week,” and February 7 – 14 is “Rejection Risk-Awareness Week,” established to raise awareness of issues stemming from dating-related social rejection.

Exploring the “true” story of Valentine’s Day

The roots of Valentine’s Day contains vestiges of both Christian and ancient Roman tradition.

The Catholic Church recognizes at least three different saints named Valentine or Valentinus, all of whom were martyred. One legend contends that Valentine was a priest who served during the third century in Rome. When Emperor Claudius II decided that single men made better soldiers than those with wives and families, he outlawed marriage for young men. Valentine allegedly defied Claudius and continued to perform marriages for young lovers in secret. When his actions were discovered, Claudius ordered that he be put to death.

Other stories suggest that Valentine may have been killed for attempting to help Christians escape harsh Roman prisons, where they were often beaten and tortured. Another account depicts an imprisoned Valentine actually sending the first “valentine” greeting after he fell in love with a young girl — possibly his jailor’s daughter — who visited him during his confinement. Before his death, it is alleged that he wrote her a letter signed “From your Valentine,” an expression that is still in use today.

At the end of the 5th century, Pope Gelasius declared February 14th Saint Valentine’s Day. It was not until much later, however, that the day became definitively associated with love. During the Middle Ages, it was commonly believed in France and England that February 14 was the beginning of birds’ mating season, which added to the idea that Valentine’s Day should be a day for romance.

In addition to the United States, Valentine’s Day is celebrated in Canada, Mexico, the United Kingdom, France and Australia. In Great Britain, Valentine’s Day began to be popularly celebrated around the 17th century. By the middle of the 18th, it was common for friends and lovers of all social classes to exchange small tokens of affection or handwritten notes, and by 1900 printed cards began to replace written letters due to improvements in printing technology.

So, as we try to pull ourselves out of the winter doldrums, there’s no shortage of days in February to observe, commemorate or celebrate. Whichever you choose, take solace in knowing that the start of spring is barely a month away . . . and that’s certainly worth celebrating!


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