Every year, on February 14th, millions of people send special cards, jewelries, flowers and candy to people they care about. It’s an ancient holiday that has become synonymous with love. Actually, the entire month of February has long been associated with romance. Valentine’s Day is almost here, you are probably thinking about how you and your loved ones are going to be celebrating that special day. Have you ever thought about why you celebrate your loved ones on February 14th? The history of St. Valentine’s Day is a mystery and there are several legends surrounding it. People know even less about the holiday’s patron saint. Who was Saint Valentine? How did he become associated with this ancient tradition?
The shrine of St. Valentine
There really is no definite answer. The Catholic Church recognizes three men who were martyred as Saint Valentine or Valentinus. One legend asserts that he was a priest that served in Rome during the third century. During that time, Emperor Claudius, decided that single men were better suited to be soldiers than married men with children. In order to increase his military, he outlawed marriages for the young men in his kingdom. Valentine saw the injustice in this mandate and began performing marriage rites in secret for young people in love. When the Emperor Claudius found out about Valentine’s actions, he ordered his execution. Some stories from that area allege that Valentine may have been put to death for trying to help Christians escape the Roman prisons where they were sometimes tortured and beaten.
Another legend claims that the holiday is named after Valentine because he actually sent the first “valentine” letter himself. It is believed that while he was in prison he fell in love with a young girl who often visited him during his imprisonment. Before he died, the legend states that he wrote her a letter signed “From your Valentine”. The expression is still used to this day. Once again, the legend portrays Valentine as a tragic yet heroic figure who is caught up in romance and drama. During the Middle Ages, Valentine was one of the most popular saints in France and England. Some historians believe that his increasing popularity served as a distraction for desolate times for the French and English. It has long been believed that St. Valentine’s Day is celebrated in the middle of February as a tribute to his death or burial. Historians believe that his death probably occurred around 270 A.D.
A different legend links Valentine’s Day with a campaign by the Christian church to “Christianize” the spring time celebrations of a pagan festival called Lupercalia. During this time, the month of February was a time to honor Juno, the goddess of women and marriage. of Ancient Romans believed that February marked the beginning of spring and it was considered to be a time for atonement. The Romans would thoroughly clean their houses and sprinkle salt and a type of wheat called spelt throughout their homes. The Lupercalia festival started on February 15th in celebration of fertility. It was dedicated to the Roman god of agriculture Faunus and to the founders of Rome, Remus and Romulus. A popular ritual at this festival was actually an act of ancient matchmaking. The names of single women were placed in an urn. Then, eligible bachelor’s would choose a name from the urn and begin to court their pick. Many of these matches often led to marriage. This system was soon outlawed and considered un-Christian. Pope Gelasius made a slight change to the ritual. Instead of men drawing the names of women from the urn, both men and women would draw the names of well known saints. Then they would then have to emulate the ways of the saint all year long.
February 14th became the “day of love” when Pope Gelasius declared it “St. Valentine’s Day in 498 A.D. in an effort to abolish the Roman pagan festival Lapercalia, but it was not official until King Henry VIII declared it in 1537. Many English and French believed that February 14th marked the start of mating seasons for birds. So, this special day had romantic meanings for humans and animals as well the Earth’s seasons. Even with all of the history surrounding Valentine’s day, this holiday did not become truly popular until the seventeenth century in England. People from all social classes began to exchange letters of affection on this day. By the mid-eighteenth century, due to advancements in printing, people exchanged the handwritten letters for pre-printed Valentine’s Day cards. Exchanging pre-printed cards really took off in the United States in the 1840’s, after Esther A. Howland began to sell the first mass-produced cards.
Now, Valentine’s Day is the second largest holiday of the year for card-sending. The Greeting Card Association estimates that one billion valentine cards are sent every year, 85 percent of those are sent by women. This celebration of love on February 14th is now recognized in the United States, Canada, Mexico, England, France and Australia.