La Festa Degli Innamorati
St. Valentine’s Day is synonymous with love and as everyone knows – Italy is the land of love. Known in Italy as “La Festa degli Innamorati,” Valentine’s Day is celebrated only between lovers and sweethearts. Young sweethearts in Italy profess their love for each other all year round with a more recent tradition, attaching padlocks or “lucchetti” to bridges and railings and throwing away the keys.
The manner in which Valentine’s Day is now celebrated in Italy is actually based on the American tradition, in the same way that Halloween has been adopted into the Italian culture. However, in Italy, it is a holiday for romantic couples. Children do not exchange Valentine cards as they do in the U.S.
Valentine’s Day on February 14th actually has its origin in the Roman Empire. It was a holiday to celebrate the Queen of Roman gods and goddesses. The ancient Romans also considered the goddess Juno to be the Queen of Women and Marriage.
A relic of St. Valentine in the church of Santa Maria in Cosmedin, Rome.History has not provided with absolute certainty just which man was the true St. Valentine that the holiday is based on. The popular legend of the day’s origin refers to St. Valentine who was a priest in Rome during the 3rd century.
It was decreed by Claudius Gothicus (Claudius II, 42nd Emperor of Rome, also known as Claudius the Cruel) that marriage during wartime was prohibited. Rome was involved in many unpopular and bloody campaigns during the two years that Claudius ruled. The Emperor had to maintain a strong army, but was having a difficult time getting soldiers to join his military leagues. Claudius believed that Roman men were unwilling to join the army because of their strong attachment to their wives and families and unmarried soldiers fought better in battle. To resolve this issue, Claudius placed a ban on all marriages and engagements in Rome. Valentine defied Claudius and continued to perform marriage ceremonie for young lovers in secret. When Valentine’s actions were discovered, Claudius ordered that he be put to death. Valentine was arrested and dragged before the Prefect of Rome, who condemned him to be beaten to death with clubs and to have his head cut off. The sentence was carried out on February 14, on or about the year 270. Legend also has it that while imprisoned, he left a farewell note for the jailer’s daughter who had become his friend and signed it – “From Your Valentine.” He was later proclaimed a saint by Pope Gelasius.
Valentine Celebrations in Italy
To celebrate this lovers’ holiday, Italians give each other flowers, plan romantic dinners and present each other with chocolates, much like in the U.S. The renowned Italian chocolate maker, Perugina celebrates the day by making a special edition of the Baci chocolate candies with a shiny red wrapper and a sweet red cherry and liquid center, rather than the traditional hazelnut one.
Florence and Venice are traditionally considered to be two of the most romantic cities in Italy, but Verona, the city of Romeo and Juliet, celebrates Valentine’s Day with a four-day celebration of events designated “Verona in Love.” In the center of Piazza dei Signori a giant red heart is painted on the street and illuminated heart-shaped lanterns are featured throughout the city center. Free concerts with romantic themes take place in Piazza dei Signori and there is a contest for the most beautiful letter written to Juliet. To attract lovers and sweethearts to spend a weekend in Verona, many of the local hotels offer deals and the restaurants feature specially priced menus.