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It was an ancient custom to worship the God of Love—Eros for the Greeks, Cupid for the Romans—to dedicate offerings and gifts, and to seek their help in finding the perfect match. Although commemorating St. Valentine’s Day has its source in Anglo-Saxon tradition, the legend goes that around the 3rd century, the priest Valentine of Rome performed marriage ceremonies despite the orders of Emperor Claudius that young men remain single in order to expand his army, believing that married men did not make for good soldiers. Valentine defied Claudius and continued to perform marriages for young lovers in secret. When his actions were discovered, Claudius ordered that he be taken prisoner and thrown in jail. Further embellishment of the legend has it that, while in prison, he fell in love with his jailer’s daughter and sent the first “valentine” card himself, appropriately signing it “From your Valentine,” an expression that is still in use today.
In Great Britain, Valentine’s Day began to be celebrated around the 17th century. By the middle of the 18th century, friends and lovers in all social classes were exchanging small tokens of affection, notes or cards known as valentines. This practice began to expand to other countries, with their own particular features. Valentine’s Day was adopted in Latin American countries in the early 20th century, and greeting cards became just as popular as in the United States. According to Cuban patriot and poet José Martí, who lived many years in New York, these cards were made “of fine Bristol lined with lace or trimmings…there are angels, lovers, wild flower bouquets: lilies, daisies or sunflowers that are in fashion now because they are the flowers of the esthetes.”
In time, Valentine’s Day, or Lover’s Day, as it is known in Cuba, has become Day of Love and Friendship. This day is also chosen by many Cubans to give their sweethearts their engagement rings. Some even choose it as their wedding day. And, on that special night, the Malecón fills with lovers remembering the past and dreaming of the future. Febraury 2015 This article formed part of the February 2015 issue of What’s On Havana The definitive monthly travel & culture guide to Havana Download our current issue of What’s On Havana, your definitive travel, culture and entertainment guide for all things happening in Havana, Cuba’s bustling and enigmatic capital city. We include features from around Cuba written by the best international travel writers covering Cuba. Our monthly online digital magazine is also available in Spanish and French.
What’s On Havana What’s On La Habana What’s On La Havane February, 2015
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