St. Valentine’s Day

In keeping with my holiday series for young people, I present here my lighthearted essay on Valentine’s Day. This holiday was actually the starting point for the book project. My daughter had to do a school paper article on the holiday and had a difficult time finding information on the history of Valentine’s Day that was suitable for children. I starting writing this book at that time since there was nothing on the market. Still isn’t. In any case, here goes —

Hearts and cupids and tasty candy are a long way from the origins of this holiday! To get a grip on St. Valentine’s Day we have to go back to the Romans again. Remember that the Romans took over the known world in the first century B.C.E. Nobody has accused the Romans of having a great sense of humor! Like most empire-builders they had the serious business of looking out for their own best interests in mind.

Before Constantine (if you skipped New Year’s Day, there’s more there) the Romans worshipped lots of gods. Their religion didn’t really have a name, but it had plenty of gods, gods to spare even! So when they conquered the land where Jesus would show up, Judaea (aka “Israel”), they didn’t really need any more gods. There were so many religions around, in fact, that the Romans hated new religions.

One of the favorite Roman sports was killing Christians, because Christianity was a new and illegal religion. By a remarkable coincidence two guys by the name of Valentine were priests in the early days of the church. Although St. Valentine’s Day gets cootie points for some, the name actually means “valiant.” Well, these two Valentines were both traditionally killed on February 14 in the 200s (C.E.). So Valentine’s Day starts with blood and gore!

Read the rest here (under Full Essays).

2 thoughts on “St. Valentine’s Day

  1. Jad

    Hi Professor! Awesome essay! I just wanted to say that, through my classical education at Rutgers, I was informed that the ancient Romans were pretty tolerant of different religions – as long as they acknowledge (accepted?) their pantheon and paid their taxes. The thing with the Jews, though, is that they resisted Roman occupation, and with Christians is that they were used as scapegoats by Nero, which would have started off their long time persecution up till Constantine. I could be wrong though 😛


    • Steve Wiggins

      Thanks, Jad.

      Ah, this is the problem with new information! The old biases I grew up with are turning out to be misguided or incorrect! You could well be right: the Romans may not have had problems with other religions unless they got in the way of imperial ambitions. I actually wrote this little essay quite a few years ago and haven’t edited it much since then. If I ever try to go to press with it in any serious way I’ll have to reconsider my sweeping statements. Thanks for keeping me in line!


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