History of Valentine’s Day
Hearts, flowers, chocolate and Cupid are all symbols of Valentine’s Day but why is Valentine’s day a special celebration of love and affection. What is the origin of Valentine’s Day and was there really a Saint Valentine? And what does a saint have to do with love and romance? How is Valentine’s Day celebrated around the world? What is the significance of February the 14th?
Who Was Saint Valentine?
There were probably several early Christian martyrs in Roman times named Valentine, or Valentinus. While the historic facts of the origin of Saint Valentine are not known, there are several different legends as to the romantic beginnings of Valentine’s Day. One story says that Saint Valentine was a priest during the time of the Roman Emperor Claudius II. Because the Empire was at war, the Emperor ordered that none of the young men could marry, as he believed married men did not make good soldiers. The soft-hearted priest Valentine broke the law by secretly uniting men and women in holy matrimony. Discovered by the authorities, the errant priest Valentine was thrown into jail and later executed, all for marrying couples in love.
A legend, perhaps most advanced by greeting card companies, is that when St. Valentine was in jail, and on the eve of his execution, he wrote a note to a young woman with whom he was smitten and signed it, “From your Valentine.” This is a classic story that paints St. Valentine as the inventor and namesake of the very first Valentine card. Other stories say that Valentine was a man who helped Christians escape from Roman jails, where these early followers of Christ were beaten and mistreated just for their beliefs.
It is interesting to note that Pope Paul VI deleted Valentine’s Day as an official saint’s day in 1969, which implies that St. Valentine had more pagan than Christian origins.
The Origin of Valentine’s Day
A more probable association with February 14 as a day of love is that this is the time of year that the Romans celebrated the return of spring with a holiday known as Lupercalia, an ancient rite of fertility. Lupercalia was associated with the Roman god, Faunus, who became the Greek god Pan. Because spring is the time of year when birds and animals reappear abundantly and begin to produce new offspring, the association with love, fertility, and renewal seems more likely as the reason that February 14 has come to be celebrated as a day of love and affection, as Valentine’s Day.
Valentine’s Day in Literature
The first recorded link between Valentine’s Day and romance is found in the writing of English poet Geoffrey Chaucer in a poem entitled “Parlement of Foules” in 1382. On February 14, 1400, Paris, France, established a High Court of Love, a court that made decisions about marriages, love contracts, adulteries, betrayals, and also domestic abuse. Even the great English playwright William Shakespeare makes mention of Valentine’s Day in his play Hamlet when Ophelia opines:
To-morrow is Saint Valentine’s Day,
All in the morning betime,
And I a maid at your window,
To be your Valentine.
More evidence of early Valentine’s Day is found in a stereotypical poem found in a collection of English nursery rhymes from 1784:
The rose is red, the violet’s blue
The honey’s sweet and so are you.
Thou are my love and thou are mine,
I drew thee to my Valentine.
The romantic verse and light poetry is perhaps the literary origin of the Valentine’s Day card, complete with loving sentiments and flowery language.
The Popularity of the Valentine’s Day Card
By the 17th century, it was quite common in Great Britain for Valentine’s Day to be celebrated. In the middle of the 18th century it was commonplace for friends and lovers to exchange small tokens of affection or handwritten love notes. The sending of paper Valentines really didn’t become popular until the early 19th century in England, when they were created in factories. This was a time of flourishing, fancy Valentines that were made by hand with real ribbons and paper lace.
In the late 1840s in the United States, the first mass-produced Valentine’s Day cards came from Esther Howland of Worcester, Massachusetts. Inspired by the fancy, English Valentines, Howland began importing paper lace and other decorations from England so that she could make her own cards. In evidence of Ms. Howland’s fame in the history of Valentine’s Day cards, the Greeting Card Association still awards an annual “Esther Howland Award for a Greeting Card Visionary.”
Perhaps as a hold over from its Roman origins, Cupid, the god of love has become associated with Valentine’s Day. Cupid is most often depicted as a winged, bow and arrow-wielding child, looking to shoot an arrow of love into an unsuspecting heart. One might also ask, why is the heart the symbol of love? Many ancient cultures have considered the heart as the center of thought, reason, and emotion, which makes the heart a perfect symbol of love and romantic love. Doves have also been used as symbols of Valentine’s Day and romantic love perhaps because many doves choose a mate for life. The color red is also associated with love, passion, and blood in many cultures and has become the standard color associated wtih Valentine’s Day. It is interesting to note that the rose, a popular Valentine’s Day flower that symbolizes love, was also the flower of Venus the Roman goddess of love.
Valentine’s Day Around the World
Valentine’s Day is celebrated around the world in a wide variety interesting ways. While most Americans are familiar with February 14th as Valentine’s Day this special day falls on different dates depending on where you live – View a calendar of Valentine’s Day dates around the world
However Valentine’s day started it is a national holiday today so celebrate your loved one and do something special otherwise next year cupid may just send someone else instead.