The wrong Valentine

Valentine’s Day, the day of love, is knocking right on the door. In this festive mood of love, Shaikha Shuhada Panzeree explores the history behind this day and finds out contemporary capitalist ideas lurking in this practice. 


Lupercalia by Andrea Camassei

Lupercalia by Andrea Camassei

There are the excited or worried lovers getting all worked up for the advancing Valentine’s Day, on the one hand, there are the not-so-enthusiastic lovers or bitter singles, on the other, who are all set for despising the event from top to toe.

However they perceive this day, February 14, one thing is for sure that it has become a custom in our country now, especially among the young and millennials. The practice was introduced to us in the early 1990s by Shafik Rehman, a Bangladeshi journalist and writer. Although, some 25 years back, we can trace back to no such vigorous celebration of this event in our country. Why? It never was a part of the society, culture or religion in this part of the world. So, here comes an important question!

Why are we celebrating St Valentine’s Day in our country then? Is it because we want to single out a day and truly want to celebrate our romantic love with our hearts filled with adrenaline rushed lovey-dovey emotions? Is it because media and business corporations have made successful pawns out of us? Or, is it because we know nothing about the custom, but as being credited for hujuge Bangali (Bangalis who love to go with the flow), we must take an appealing foreign custom and make it our own? Let’s try to find out.


Lupercalia by Beccafumi Domenico

Lupercalia by Beccafumi Domenico

Valentine’s Day is known and celebrated as a Christian custom, but confusion arises as no researcher could reach to any conclusion about the specificity of this person, St Valentine’s identity. Christian history says third century CE Roman emperor Claudius II executed a priest named Valentine. This emperor thought it to be harmful for his empire if young men/soldiers were distracted by the thought of their wives and families, so he outlawed marriage in his reign, but priest Valentine went on disobeying the law and secretly conducting marriage rituals for couples, resulting in his execution on February 14, in the year of 269 CE.

But, there are at least three people of the same name in Christian history, all three of them are martyrs, supposedly killed on February 14th. But, what is the connection of these martyrs with the custom of exchanging gift cards, initially, among lovers? There is, in actuality, no real connection. It drives us further back in time, to the time of pagans of classical Rome.

Some good hundred years before the birth of Jesus, pagan Romans celebrated the evening of February 14 and the entire day of February 15 in a sensual and erotic way, they called it the festival of ‘Lupercalia’, dedicated to the honour of god Lupercus who was otherwise known as the great ‘hunter of the wolves’. Roman people worshipped him as the promoter of fertility and protector of herds against wolves. Male priests of pagan Rome, known as the Luperci, believed that Lupercus will save Rome from the vicious wolves, and thus they performed purification rites, the Lupercalia — also known as the ‘festival of sexual license’. On this day, the Luperci sacrificed goats and a dog, young men and/or the Luperci wore loincloths made from the skin of the sacrificed animals and went on striking women with februa, thongs made from skins of the sacrificed animals. The name February itself derives from the word februa — means of purification. Hitting women with the februa was believed to ensure the purification and fertility of women. In this event, names of young women willing to get pregnant were put into a box, men would randomly pick one from the names. The man who picked a name and the woman, whose name was drawn, would engage into sexual activities at the feast later that day and remain sexual partners for the rest of the year.

Here is the funny story, according to the Encyclopedia of Britannica, exchanging of cards between Valentines was inspired and drawn from the ‘name drawing’ of Lupercalia, it farther says that the custom was directly ‘handed down from the Roman festival of the Lupercalia’. Romans introduced the custom to England and the practice remained. It is widely claimed that Valentine’s Day derived from the pagan custom, and since it could not be stopped, in 496 CE, the church under Pope Gelasius adapted the custom as St Valentine’s feast.

Cherry on the top of the funny story, the pagan festival of Lupercalia itself was not counted to be an original one but rather deriving from Athens. From the middle of January to middle of February, the time was named Gamelion by Athenians, dedicated to the marriage of Zeus and Hera. Hera is the Greek goddess of marriage. Also, remember februa? It is a Sabine word for purification, the Sabine people from Italy were conquered by the Romans around 300 BCE and it is said that the Romans got the idea of purification from the Sabines. Going back to history may stop here, anyone with a little idea of mythology would know how webbed the gods, the goddesses and their histories are. And lord knows, we will be lost forever if we try to trace it back to the origin!

From all this stories above, we may safely reach to one conviction, Bengali people have nothing to do with the custom of Valentine’s Day, Christians adapted it from another religion and the very custom is rather confused and inter-webbed in the chapters of mythology.

Coming back to the first question, why do we, Bengali or Bangladeshi people, celebrate this day so vigorously?

The answer is plain and simple, we love the idea of having a day to celebrate the repressed lovers in our conservative society. But in the process, we are overdoing it, we are being fooled by the capitalist motif of the organisms who promote it, eye-washed by the glamour of the world-wide acceptance of it, and most of all, robbed by the cunning circle that leads this custom to go on and on.

Ideally, there is nothing wrong in separating a day for one’s beloved. But when this special occasion allures us to be competitive, to show-off what we received from our partners, to make a big deal out of what initially was a simple lovely gesture – it becomes unhealthy. This year, we have seen a big hotel to market Valentine’s Day and offering a tour to a few places of three countries in exchange of an outrageous amount of 9,00,000 Taka. Like this, from the biggest five star hotels to the roadside carts, from the jewelry shops to the fashion houses, from the entertainment media to the internet — all these draw a huge profit out of our gullible love.

The external exploitive forces could be tamed if we were true to our own desires.


Shaikha Shuhada Panzeree is a member of the New Age Youth team.


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