In search of roots and traditions that have a special place in Mexico’s festive spirit and folklore, we set the task to go farther on the meaning St. Valentine’s Day represents in this country:
This festivity, adopted by the Catholic Church, dates back to the third century in Rome, where a priest named Valentine objected the Emperor’s Claudius II prohibition of marriages among young citizens, considering single men the best resource to join the army –having no sentimental attachments to divert their attention from their duty as soldiers. Secretly opposing the Emperor’s decree, Valentine began to conduct marriage ceremonies for young lovers who appealed for his help; hence becoming Patron of the lovers. Upon learning Valentine’s disregard, Claudius II sentenced him to death on February 14, 270 AD, alleging contempt and rebellion. Years after the event, in 498 AD, the date was set to commemorate Valentine’s Day on the Liturgic Calendar.
Valentine’s Day is widely celebrated in Mexico, –a festivity inherited by Catholicism–, and even when February 14th has no resemblance with Mexican traditions, love has always been a reason for festivities among civilizations: just as the Greeks and Romans honored mythical deities of Love, so did the Mexicas, the ancient civilization that inhabited Mexican territory.
Two deities personified love: Xochipilli, also known as Macuilxóchitl, who was the god of love, games, beauty, dance, flowers, corn and songs. His name means ‘Prince of flowers’ and he had a twin sister –also related as his wife–, Xochiquétzal, which means ‘Lovely flower’ or ‘Flowery bird’; she was the goddess of fertility. From the love of these gods, Centéotl, the god of corn, was born.
In their honor the ancient culture held fasts and offerings of maize and bread, and made sacrifices to the gods by inserting maguey thorns into the tongue. Dances and performances were also offered to the beat of drums called ‘teponaztli’.
Why are flowers given for Valentine’s Day?
Flowers are the quintessential gesture of love and there is a close relation between giving a flowery bouquet to the loved one on St. Valentine’s Day. The legend tells us that, during his stay in prison, Saint Valentine performed the miracle of restoring sight to his cell guard’s daughter. After the priest was executed, the young woman planted an almond tree next to the grave as a token of her gratitude. Ever since, flowers have been considered a true symbol of love and friendship.