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Culture Salon
The Story of Valentine's Day


  Valentine's Day may come from the ancient Roman feast of Lupercalia. When fierce wolves roamed nearby, the old Romans called upon the god Lupercus to help them. A festival in his honor was held February 15th. On the eve of the festival the names of girls were written on slips of paper and placed in jars. Each young man drew a slip. The girl whose name was chosen was to be his sweetheart for the year. Legend has it that the holiday became Valentine's Day after a Roman priest named Valentine.

Emperor Claudius II ordered the Roman soldiers NOT to marry or become engaged. Claudius felt married soldiers would rather stay home than fight. When Valentine defied the Emperor and secretly married the young couples, he was put to death on February 14th, the eve of Lupercalia. After his death, Valentine became a saint. Christian priests moved the holiday from the 15th to the 14th - Valentine's Day. Now the holiday honors Valentine instead of Lupercus.

Valentine's Day has become a major symbol of love and romance in the modern world. The ancient god Cupid and his arrow into a lover's heart may still be used to portray falling in love or being in love. But we also use cards and gifts, such as flowers or jewelry, to do this. Forgetting to give flowers to a wife or sweetheart on Valentine's Day can sometimes be as damaging to a relationship as forgetting a birthday or a wedding anniversary.

Chinese Valentine's Day (Qi Qiao Jie) 
The seventh day of the seventh month in the Chinese lunar calendar is known as Qi Qiao Jie, or Chinese Valentine's Day. As in the US and elsewhere this is a day devoted to love. According to one legend about the origins of Chinese Valentine's Day, it is said that the seven daughters of the Goddess of Heaven, on one of their visits to earth, caught the eye of a Cowherd, Niu Lang. As the daughters were bathing in a river they were observed by the Cowherd who decided to have a bit of fun by running off with their clothing. To get their clothing back, the sisters decided that the prettiest and youngest daughter, Zhi Nu, would ask the Cowherd to return their clothes.

Since Niu Lang had seen Zhi Nu naked, they had to be married. The couple lived happily for several years. And depending on which legend is followed, either Niu Lang died or the Goddess of Heaven simply became fed up with her daughter's absence and ordered Zhi Nu to return to heaven.

Either way, the Goddess of Heaven took pity on the couple and let them be reunited once a year, when magpies form a bridge with their wings for Zhi Nu to cross to meet her lover.

©Experiencing English 2002