The History of Valentine's Day Every February,
across the country, candy, flowers, and gifts are exchanged
between loved ones, all in the name of St. Valentine. But
who is this mysterious saint and why do we celebrate
this holiday? The history of Valentine's Day -- and its patron
saint -- is shrouded in mystery. But we do know
that February has long been a month of romance. St. Valentine's
Day, as we know it today, contains vestiges
of both Christian and ancient Roman tradition. So, who was
Saint Valentine and how did he become associated
with this ancient rite? Today, the Catholic Church recognizes
at least three different saints named Valentine or
Valentinus, all of whom were martyred.
One legend contends that Valentine was a priest
who served during the third century in Rome. When Emperor
Claudius II decided that single men made better soldiers than
those with wives and families, he outlawed marriage
for young men -- his crop of potential soldiers. Valentine,
realizing the injustice of the decree, defied Claudius
and continued to perform marriages for young lovers in secret.
When Valentine's actions were discovered,
Claudius ordered that he be put to death.
Other stories suggest that Valentine may have
been killed for attempting to help Christians escape harsh
prisons where they were often beaten and tortured.
According to one legend, Valentine actually
sent the first 'valentine' greeting himself. While in prison,
it is believed
that Valentine fell in love with a young girl -- who may have
been his jailor's daughter -- who visited him during his
confinement. Before his death, it is alleged that he wrote
her a letter, which he signed 'From your Valentine,' an
expression that is still in use today. Although the truth
behind the Valentine legends is murky, the stories certainly
emphasize his appeal as a sympathetic, heroic, and, most importantly,
romantic figure. It's no surprise that by the
Middle Ages, Valentine was one of the most popular saints
in England and France.
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 probably occurred
around 270 A.D -- others claim that the Christian church
may have decided to celebrate Valentine's feast day in the
middle of February in an effort to 'christianize' celebrations
of the pagan Lupercalia festival. In ancient Rome, February
was the official beginning of spring and was considered
a time for purification. Houses were ritually cleansed by
sweeping them out and then sprinkling salt and a type
of wheat called spelt throughout their interiors. Lupercalia,
which began at the ides of February, February 15,
was a fertility festival dedicated to Faunus, the Roman god
of agriculture, as well as to the Roman founders
Romulus and Remus.
To begin the festival, members of the Luperci,
an order of Roman priests, would gather at the sacred cave
the infants Romulus and Remus, the founders of Rome, were
believed to have been cared for by a she-wolf or lupa.
The priests would then sacrifice a goat, for fertility, and
a dog, for purification.
The boys then sliced the goat's hide into strips, dipped them
in the sacrificial blood and took to the streets,
gently slapping both women and fields of crops with the goathide
strips. Far from being fearful, Roman women
welcomed being touched with the hides because it was believed
the strips would make them more fertile in the
coming year. Later in the day, according to legend, all the
young women in the city would place their names in
a big urn. The city's bachelors would then each choose a name
out of the urn and become paired for the year with
his chosen woman. These matches often ended in marriage. Pope
Gelasius declared February 14 St. Valentine's Day
around 498 A.D. The Roman 'lottery' system for romantic pairing
was deemed un-Christian and outlawed. Later,
during the Middle Ages, it was commonly believed in France
and England that February 14 was the beginning
of birds' mating season, which added to the idea that the
middle of February -- Valentine's Day -- should be a day
for romance. The oldest known valentine still in existence
today was a poem written by Charles, Duke of Orleans
to his wife while he was imprisoned in the Tower of London
following his capture at the Battle of Agincourt.
The greeting, which was written in 1415, is part of the manuscript
collection of the British Library in London, England.
Several years later, it is believed that King Henry V hired
a writer named John Lydgate to compose a valentine
note to Catherine of Valois.
In Great Britain, Valentine's Day began to
be popularly celebrated around the seventeenth century. By
of the eighteenth century, it was common for friends and lovers
in all social classes to exchange small tokens
of affection or handwritten notes. By the end of the century,
printed cards began to replace written letters due
to improvements in printing technology. Ready-made cards were
an easy way for people to express their emotions
in a time when direct expression of one's feelings was discouraged.
Cheaper postage rates also contributed to an
increase in the popularity of sending Valentine's Day greetings.
Americans probably began exchanging hand-made
valentines in the early 1700s. In the 1840s, Esther A. Howland
began to sell the first mass-produced
valentines in America.
According to the Greeting Card Association,
an estimated one billion valentine cards are sent each year,
Valentine's Day the second largest card-sending holiday of
(An estimated 2.6 billion cards are sent for Christmas.)
Approximately 85 percent of all valentines
are purchased by women. In addition to the United States,
Day is celebrated in Canada, Mexico, the United Kingdom, France,
Valentine greetings were popular as far back
as the Middle Ages (written Valentine's didn't begin to appear
after 1400), and the oldest known Valentine card is on display
at the British Museum. The first commercial
Valentine's Day greeting cards produced in the U.S. were created
in the 1840s by Esther A. Howland. Howland,
known as the Mother of the Valentine, made elaborate creations
with real lace, ribbons and colorful
pictures known as "scrap".