HomeOthersHistory of Valentine’s Day That You Did Not Know Before

History of Valentine’s Day That You Did Not Know Before

The 14th of February is Valentine’s Day. Candy, flowers, and presents are shared between loved ones across the United States and around the world on Valentine’s Day, all in the name of St. Valentine. But who is this enigmatic saint, and where did these customs originate? Learn about the origins and history of Valentine’s Day, from the ancient Roman springtime celebration of Lupercalia to Victorian England’s card-giving habits.

St. Valentine’s Day Legend

What is the origin of Valentine’s Day? The holiday’s origins, as well as the biography of its patron saint, are buried in mystery. We do know that February has always been associated with passion, and that St. Valentine’s Day, as we know it now, incorporates Christian and ancient Roman traditions. But who was Saint Valentine, and how did he come to be connected with such a sacrament?

At least three individual saints called Valentine or Valentinus are recognized by the Catholic Church, all of whom were martyred. Valentine, according to mythology, was a priest who served in Rome around the third century. Emperor Claudius II forbade marriage for young men because he believed that lone men made better soldiers than those with wives and families. Valentine disobeyed Claudius and continued to execute covert marriages for young couples, despite the decree’s injustice. Claudius ordered Valentine’s execution after his acts were exposed. Others argue that Saint Valentine of Terni, a bishop, was the actual inspiration for the holiday. Claudius II also beheaded him outside of Rome.

According to some accounts, Valentine was slain for attempting to assist Christians in escaping the harsh Roman jails, where they were frequently beaten and tormented. According to mythology, an imprisoned Valentine sent the first “valentine” greeting after falling in love with a young girl who visited him during his confinement—possibly his jailor’s daughter. He is said to have written her a letter inscribed “From your Valentine” before his death, an idiom that is still used today. Although the truth underlying the Valentine legends is hazy, all of the stories underscore Valentine’s attractiveness as a sympathetic, heroic, and, most importantly, amorous person. Valentine would become one of the most popular saints in England and France by the Middle Ages, maybe as a result of his reputation.

Valentine’s Day Origins: A February Pagan Festival

While some believe that Valentine’s Day is celebrated in the middle of February to commemorate the anniversary of Valentine’s death or burial—which is thought to have occurred around A.D. 270—others believe that the Christian church chose the middle of February to “Christianize” the pagan Lupercalia celebration. Lupercalia was a fertility festival devoted to Faunus, the Roman god of agriculture, as well as the Roman founders Romulus and Remus, and was held on the ides of February, or February 15.

Members of the Luperci, a Roman priestly order, would congregate at a sacred cave where the children Romulus and Remus, the founders of Rome, were said to have been cared for by a she-wolf or lupa, to begin the festival. A goat would be sacrificed for fertility, and a dog would be sacrificed for purification. They would then strip the goat’s hide into strips, immerse them in the sacrificial blood, then slap both women and crop fields with the goat hide. Rather of being afraid of the contact of the skins, Roman women welcomed it because it was thought to make them more pregnant in the coming year. Legend has it that later in the day, all of the city’s young women would sign their names in a large urn. Each of the city’s bachelors would choose a name and be partnered with his preferred wife for the year. These encounters frequently resulted in marriage.

Valentine’s Day is a romantic and love-filled day.

Lupercalia survived the early Christian era but was forbidden towards the end of the fifth century, when Pope Gelasius designated February 14th as St. Valentine’s Day, since it was judged “un-Christian.” However, it was not until much later that the day became inextricably linked to love. During the Middle Ages, it was widely thought in France and England that February 14 marked the start of bird mating season, adding to the notion that Valentine’s Day should be a day of passion in the middle of the month. In his 1375 poem “Parliament of Foules,” English author Geoffrey Chaucer was the first to mention St. Valentine’s Day as a day of romantic festivity, saying, “”For this was sent on Seynt Valentyne’s day / Whan every foul cometh ther to pick his mate.”

Valentine greetings were common in the Middle Ages, but it wasn’t until until 1400 that written Valentines began to appear. A poem written in 1415 by Charles, Duke of Orleans, to his wife while imprisoned in the Tower of London following his arrest at the Battle of Agincourt is the oldest known valentine still in existence today. (The greeting is now in the British Library’s manuscript collection in London, England.) King Henry V is said to have employed a writer named John Lydgate to write a valentine note to Catherine of Valois several years later.

Cupid: Who Is He?

Cupid is sometimes depicted as a naked cherub shooting love darts at unsuspecting couples on Valentine’s Day cards. Cupid, the Roman deity of love, has his origins in Greek mythology as Eros, the Greek god of love. Some claim he is the son of Nyx and Erebus, others say he is the son of Aphrodite and Ares, while still others say he is the son of Iris and Zephyrus, or even Aphrodite and Zeus (who would have been both his father and grandfather).

Eros was a gorgeous immortal who, according to the Greek Archaic poets, played with the emotions of Gods and men, employing golden arrows to excite love and leaden ones to sow hate. He wasn’t shown as the playful, chubby boy he’d become on Valentine’s Day cards until the Hellenistic period.

Greetings and Gifts for Valentine’s Day

Valentine’s Day is observed in Canada, Mexico, the United Kingdom, France, and Australia, in addition to the United States. Around the 17th century, Valentine’s Day became popular in the United Kingdom.

Friends and lovers of all social groups exchanged tiny mementos of affection or handwritten notes by the middle of the 18th century, and thanks to advances in printing technology, printed cards began to supplant written letters by 1900. In a time when direct expressing of one’s feelings was discouraged, ready-made cards were a convenient way for people to express their views. A rise in the popularity of mailing Valentine’s Day messages was also aided by lower postage charges.

In the early 1700s, Americans began sharing hand-made valentines. Esther A. Howland started selling the first mass-produced valentines in America in the 1840s. Howland, dubbed the “Mother of the Valentine,” created complex designs using actual lace, ribbons, and bright “scrap” images. The Greeting Card Association estimates that 145 million Valentine’s Day cards are sent each year, making it the second most popular card-sending event of the year (more cards are sent at Christmas).

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