What is valentine’s day and why do we celebrate it?
Every February 14, across the United States and in other locations all over the world, candy, flowers and gifts are exchanged between loved ones, all in the name of St. Valentine. But who is this mysterious saint, and where did these customs come from? Find out about the history of the centuries-old holiday, from early Roman rituals to the customs of Victorian England.
THE LEGEND OF ST. VALENTINE
The history of Valentine’s Day and the story of its own patron saint is shrouded in mystery. But who was Saint Valentine, and how did he become connected with this ancient rite?
The Catholic Church recognizes, at least, three different saints named Valentine or Valentinus, all of whom were martyred. One legend contends that Valentine was. When Emperor Claudius II decided that single men made better soldiers than those with wives and families, he outlawed marriage for young men. When Valentine’s actions were discovered, Claudius ordered that he be put to death.
Other stories suggest that Valentine might have been killed for attempting to help Christians escape harsh Roman prisons, where they were regularly beaten and tortured. According to one legend, a captive Valentine sent the first “valentine” greeting himself after he fell in love with a young girl maybe his jailor’s daughter who visited him during his confinement. Before his departure, it’s alleged that he wrote her a letter signed “From your Valentine,” an expression that is still in use today. Though the truth behind the Valentine legends is murky, the stories all emphasize his appeal as a sympathetic, heroic and most importantly-romantic figure. By the Middle Ages, possibly thanks to this standing, Valentine would become one of typically the most popular saints in England and France.
ORIGINS OF VALENTINE’S DAY: A PAGAN FESTIVAL IN FEBRUARY
Observed on February 15, or the Ides of February, Lupercalia was a fertility festival dedicated to Faunus, the Roman god of agriculture, in addition to to the Roman founders Romulus and Remus.
The priests would give a goat, for fertility, as well as a dog, for purification. They’d then strip the goat’s hide into strips, dip them in the sacrificial blood and take to the streets, gently slapping both women and harvest fields with the goat hide. Far from being fearful, Roman women welcomed the touch of the hides because it was considered to make them more fertile in the upcoming year. Later in the day, based on legend, all the young women in the city would put their names in a large urn. The city’s bachelors would each pick a name and become paired for the year with his chosen girl. These matches often ended in marriage.
VALENTINE’S DAY: A DAY OF ROMANCE
Lupercalia survived the first growth of Christianity and but was outlawed–as it was deemed “unChristian”-at the end of the 5th century, when Pope Gelasius declared February 14 St. Valentine’s Day. It wasn’t until much later, nevertheless, the day became related to love. During the Middle Ages, it was believed in France and England that February 14 was the start of birds’ mating season, which added to the notion the midst of Valentine’s Day ought to be a day for romance.
Valentine greetings were popular as far back as the Middle Ages composed Valentine’s did not start to appear until after 1400. (The greeting is currently section of the manuscript collection of the British Library in London, England.)
TYPICAL VALENTINE’S DAY GREETINGS
Along with America, Valentine’s Day is observed in Mexico, Canada, the Uk, France and Australia. In Great Britain, Valentine’s Day started to be popularly celebrated around the 17th century. Ready-made cards were easy means for individuals to share their emotions in a time when direct expression of one’s feelings was discouraged. Cheaper postage rates also led to a rise in the popularity of sending.
Americans probably began exchanging hand-made valentines in the early 1700s. In the 1840s, Esther A. Howland began selling the first mass-produced valentines in America. (An estimated 2.6 billion cards are sent for Christmas.) Girls buy about 85 percent of all valentines.