On the day of the Feast of Lovers on 14 February, the church commemorates the martyrdom of St. Valentine. But the origins of this Catholic celebration that turned into reality in an event from the more commercial than religious connotations, is a festive tradition that in ancient times was known as the Beltane. The origins of the festival are shrouded in legend.
Beltane celebrated in prehistoric times on the second full moon after the winter solstice marked the development of the young God and the attainment of adulthood. Awakened by the energies at work in nature, he desires the Goddess. They fall in love, they lie between the grass and buds and unite. Beltane has long been characterized by festivals and rituals. Distinctly phallic symbols, were the focal point of the ancient rituals in villages. Often a garland, light feminine symbol, was nailed to a tree stripped of branches, the obvious phallic symbol.
Many people woke up at dawn to collect flowers and green boughs from the fields and gardens, and used them to decorate the maypole, their homes and themselves. The flowers and greenery symbolized the Goddess while the maypole as God. Beltane marks the return of vitality, passion and hopes consumed. The feast was consecrated to the Norse gods Odin and Frigg or Freyja, the mistress of magic and love.
Beltane rituals celebrated fertility and the regeneration of the earth, through great fires that were often lit in pairs. Among the fires men danced, while doing high jumps and often women rode long sticks decorated with flowers and strings and red and white bows, which depicted metaphorically an erect phallus, of which each dancer holds one end in a frenzied dance of fertility as the people there danced around naked joyfully. According to the pagan tradition, the dance around the Maibaum must be carried out counter-clockwise because the moon also follows this direction.
For the Celts, this was all natural and the union between man and woman was sacred. At Maitanz the young people danced all night around the great fire, singing and cheering and enjoying life. On the other hand, there was the practice of lashing girls' bare legs with small twigs or reeds, a practice that was intended in ancient times to avoid misfortune and to seek fertility. Such a practice was also an erotic activator.
When the flames began to subside people jumped the fires to propitiate the good fortune, and once extinguished, the fires the ashes were scattered on the fields to wish fertility. The custom persisted through the centuries till the Christianization. This was obviously one of the first festivals condemned by Christianity because it was considered sinful and foul.
Among the Teutons there was an amphitheater, where the young men could buy their bride. Of course, the girls did not have to participate, everything happened on a voluntary basis. At the forest weddings, young men and women spent the whole night in the woods to greet the sunrise, and they came back to the village the next morning with flowers and flower garlands to decorate it.
The Beltane fire was originally put up, because the women pulled out to burn old, dry (barren) brush bones, it is said. The men came later, and on the way there were all sorts of "male" struggles (courtship rituals). Many Beltane rites now live in rural areas. In different Scandinavian regions, this night is celebrated and celebrated with joy. Everyone was glad that the winter was over. In long processions the fields were crossed, flowers picked and the new fertility greeted.
In many of Beltane's rituals, the women defended the feminine hole in the ground against the men who wanted to place the phallic maibaum in it. It was not a struggle of the sexes, but more of a teasing and demanding, an erotic game that was to bring the senses to a boom. Sometimes the maypole was also soaped, and young unmarried men had to climb to the top in order to prove their masculinity.
Another custom was the Meistrich, a line drawn with paint on the street between the doors of lovers, or two young men whom the village boy would like to see as a couple. Often, however, the Meistrich, also of Jux, joined those who were supposed to be unable to stand. The young men also showed their baptized a birch as a proof of love, while bitchy and snooty young women had already put a bag of sawdust in front of the door.
During this time around Beltane, the young women sought the strongest and most beautiful men, so that strong and healthy children could be born. While in the beginning of spring the love coupled gently and with a distance beckoned, Beltane was the time when this love relationship was expressed to the outside. Anyone who jumped over the fire on Beltane was considered to be engaged. But all together is the festive party. The atmosphere was stimulated by ecstatic dances and songs. And on the night when the adults are engaged in celebrating, no one has an eye on the youth of the village, which is a great time to put all sorts of joke on the neighbors' possessions.
And at the height of the feast, after the jump over the fire, before sunrise, the individual couples and those who had found each other gradually disappeared unobtrusively and with a wink in the forest and loved each other. The young women went out to wash their faces in morning dew, and the healers collected wild water, which serves as the basis for healing drugs or potions for the coming year.
The Schlitteda is one of the Engadine customs in Switzerland, whose origin can be found in time, as a carriage and horse in the Engadine were the only means of transport in winter everywhere. Originally the only unmarried women used the occasion to invite the unmarried men to the romantic carriage ride and so spend with him the day in the woods.
In India, the Vasanta Utsavam or Vasant Panchami was celebrated in honour of Kamadeva, the god of love and lust. It was believed that the moonlight, through Kamadeva, increased sexual fertility to fill their hearts with happiness and joy. The festival is particularly propitious for new lovers and newlyweds. Holi was celebrated during the day. Fagua or Hori means that you are free from all the taboos and sexual complex. Paradoxically, the boys shouted ugly words to their favorite girls, and there were insults, sarcastic jokes but on this occasion no one got angry.
Shivaratri, was celebrated during the night to celebrate the wedding of Shiva with Parvati. It is believed that during this night Parvati danced in front of Siva. When the dance was in full splendor and harmony, Siva saw the beauty of Parvati who, with her dance, fascinated him so much that he decided to marry her. Shiva also did the Tandava Nritya to match her. The Lingam, the phallic symbol of the god is washed with milk, curd, urine, butter and dung and then is adorned with beautiful garlands. People sing hymns and mantras around a fire, throwing corn and sugar to the sacred fire and some devotees for the occasion drink Thandai, intoxicating drink made from cannabis variable, spices, almonds and milk.
Lupercalia was celebrated on February 15, with purification ceremonies and rituals that could be called symbolic fertilization. The festivities took place on February 15 because this month was the culmination of the winter period after which hungry wolves approached the sheep pens threatening the flocks. The sun has grown, the dark winter has been lost, and must now give up its power. It is the time of flirtation, love and newness grows together. At Lupercalia one celebrates the fertility and the final end of the winter, which is now slowly filled.
It appears that those traditions were derived from archaic cults of an oracular god, a messy and wild character who was invoked to protect the fields, the woods and the shepherds, and that ended up being identified with the greek god Pan, with horns and goat's hooves. Lupercalia was also an occasion to worship the goddess of fertility, who was invoked by women to treat fevers and to be protected during pregnancy and childbirth.
According to another legend, after the end of the long winter, it was the time for marriages to start. On the day before the Lupercalia, women still looking for a husband wrote their names on a leaf that was placed in a large urn. Then these leaves, chosen by lot, were matched with male names so as to form pairs. The couples selected would then spend the whole day with festivities, dancing and singing and at the end of the festivities some of them would decide to get married. The day was marked by joyous celebrations among the males and the females with feasts and wine.
The girls, dressed entirely in white color indicating purity, carried from house to house a puppet made of straw, twigs and old clothes. It was a moment of family unity, to spend with loved ones. Fires were lit and they ate simple but wholesome foods such as butter, milk or loaves. The couples for a whole year would lived in intimacy so that the fertility rite was concluded.
For couples who were unable to have any children in the first year, according to customs, two young boys chosen after a public lottery, to fertilise women, were consecrated to God. Here the priests were offered a goat (symbol of fertility) and a dog (symbol of purification), and with the blood of sacrificed animals, baptized the two boys. The two were marked on the forehead with a wet goat blood knife, and then were cleaned with a white woolen cloth soaked in milk.
Concluding the purifying ritual of washing, the two teenagers had a noble laugh. Then, with the strips made of goatskin, they had to run naked around the town, taunting spectators and passers-by who crossed by using strips of whips, to hit anyone they met along their wild ride. The half-naked boys, ran around seeking young women, who were not able to have children with their husbands, and would have had to in the course of the year ensure the fertility of the whole community.
The matrons of Rome and the young brides who wanted to have children, rather than avoid the blows of the whip, originally voluntarily offered their bellies, but later tended simply palms, who believed that such symbolic gestures were able to benefit fertility and pregnancy. That's why the extravagant ritual did suggest that the Lupercalia were ritual of symbolic fertilization, and thus implicitly to sex dating back perhaps to a prehistoric era.
Lupercalia was held till the fifth century, despite criticism and bans moved against them by church leaders, understandably concerned by the persistence of such pagan customs. Precisely in order to stamp out those ancient pre-Christian rites that were held in the Ides of February, Pope Gelasius I thought of instituting the anniversary of Saint Valentine, a bishop, who was killed between 492 and 496.
The Veneralia was another ancient Roman celebration that was dedicated to Venus and Fortuna, the goddess related to love, beauty and fertility. Her statue was taken out of the temple and taken to the male public baths, where she was stripped and ritually consecrated with hot water by a young woman, chosen as the most sexually pure and female attendants decked out in myrtle garlands.
On the day, both matrons and prostitutes participated together in the ceremonial. The matrons wore the stola, symbol of their status as well-married women. On the contrary, this garment was forbidden to the prostitutes who were distinguished by wearing a small dark-colored toga and ribbons adorning their hair. The women bathed naked exposing those parts of their bodies where was required the favor of the goddess. In these rituals women's sexuality was highlighted, both from the point of view of fecundity, which is manifested in marriage, as well as the erotic, that is sexual pleasure itself, and therefore engaged midwives and prostitutes.
It was the time when, especially women, asked for help in matters of the heart, sex, commitments or marriage. Finally, during the party, the cocetum made with crushed poppy dissolved in milk and sweetened with honey, which supposedly was the same drink taken by Venus on the day of her wedding with Vulcan was drank.
Imbolc, or Candlemas celebrated the return of light, rebirth and fertility, which was another ancient Celtic festival that was celebrated during the time when the forces of nature awaken and reactivate, so with its celebration it awaken the senses that were dormant during the winter. In earlier times, the fresh bright blood was also a sign of particular fertility. Young girls who had their first monthly hemorrhage were especially revered. Her blood was considered sacred. It was collected and given to the blessing of the harvest in a ritual of the earth, in order to strengthen the fertility of the fields magically.
Sometimes very different cultures turn out to have some points in common. In Spain and India the end of the winter solstice celebrations is accompanied by a multitudinous event in which the bull is the protagonist, which is also celebrated in both places in the second half of the month, that is called the Jallikattu in India, held during Pongal festival in Tamil Nadu. The origin of this festival is in the tradition, according to which it was an event initiated by women to choose husbands among the winners.
At present the day is predominantly celebrated in Chile, Costa Rica, Cuba, Ecuador, Spain, United States, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic and Venezuela.
In Argentina the week before the Friend's Day (July 20), is celebrated the Week of Sweetness, which has gained great popularity in recent years. During this week it is habitual to gift candies and kisses. In Bolivia the so-called Day of love and friendship is September 21. It is the first day of spring and traditionally couples exchange flowers, gifts and cards.
In Brazil the so-called day of the bride and groom is on June 12, in memory of St. Anthony of Padua, a saint famous for being a matchmaker. Couples exchange gifts and cards. It is celebrated on this date, since February is the month in which the carnival is celebrated. In Catalonia is celebrated the Day of Sant Jordi on 23 April. Tradition links the day of the book with the day of the rose.
In China there was already the Qi Qiao Jie, held on the seventh day of the seventh month of the lunar calendar. In Colombia is celebrated the Day of the Bride and Groom on the third Saturday of September. It is common the tradition of the secret friend, which consists in introducing small papers with the names of participants into a container, and then each one extract a paper and they must give a present to the person whose name is in the paper, sweets, food, chocolates, love letters, roses, etc. voluntarily, until the day when the definitive gift must be given, and break the anonymity if it is desired.
In Egypt it is the 4th of November. In Japan, in addition to the Tanabata festival, a local version of Chinese Qi Qiao Jie is celebrated. As a special feature, the fact is that women give chocolates to men, whether their family, friends or co-workers. In the latter case, the gift becomes almost an obligation, as they should give chocolates to all their colleagues. For the man that the woman truly loves is given the honmei choco. The men return the favor one month later, on March 14, a celebration known as White Day, in which they are usually given gifts in white, like white chocolate, marshmallows or even underwear.
In Uruguay it is celebrated, usually in October, in the spring. Kupala is in some ways the traditional equivalent in Poland, Russia, Belarus, Lithuania and Ukraine but also in a similar way in the countries and regions inhabited by the Baltic, Celtic, Finno-Ugric and Germanic peoples. In Finland (Juhannus) and Estonia (Jaanipäev), this festival is one of the most important of the calendar. The tradition of Kupała or Sobótki consisted of burning fires at dusk and bathing at sunset in water bodies, singing and dancing until midnight around a pole.
At midnight, under the pretext of looking for fern flowers, the unmarried men and women ran to the forest. The girls, all dressed in white sang first with a crown of flowers on their head, symbolizing their state of celibacy. The men followed their lead. He who found the fern flower then saw all his wishes satisfied. However, until nobody found them, they lived happily together. The lucky man then returned with a ring of flowers on his head, accompanied by his promise. The girls floated their flowers with candles on the rivers, a sign that somebody might discover and return the following year to her to exchange their dried flowers in order to flower their crowns of flowers.
As we could see, the first days after winter solstice were considered of great importance by many different populations, since they represented a moment of transition from darkness and cold to mild winter and lush spring, when the lambs, land and ladies returned to get fertile.