The Origins of Valentine’s Day

The origins of Valentine’s Day trace back to the ancient Roman celebration of Lupercalia. Held on February 15, Lupercalia honored the gods Lupercus and Faunus, as well as the legendary founders of Rome, Romulus and Remus.

For 800 years the Romans had dedicated this day to the god Lupercus. In addition to a bountiful feast, Lupercalia festivities are purported to have included the pairing of young women and men. Men would draw women’s names from a box, and each couple would be paired until next year’s celebration. From Feb. 13 to 15, the men sacrificed a goat and a dog, then whipped women with the hides of the animals they had just slain.  Young women would actually line up for the men to hit them, Lenski says. They believed this would make them fertile.

While this pairing of couples set the tone for today’s holiday, it wasn’t called “Valentine’s Day” until a priest named Valentine came along. Valentine, a romantic at heart, disobeyed Emperor Claudius II’s decree that soldiers remain bachelors. Claudius handed down this decree believing that soldiers would be distracted and unable to concentrate on fighting if they were married or engaged. Valentine defied the emperor and secretly performed marriage ceremonies. As a result of his defiance, Valentine was put to death on February 14. Saint Valentine’s Day, also known as Valentine’s Day or the Feast of Saint Valentine, is observed on February 14th each year. It is celebrated in many countries around the world, although it remains a working day in most of them.

St. Valentine’s Day began as a celebration of one or more early Christian saints named Valentinus.  A popular  account of Saint Valentine of Rome states that he was imprisoned for performing weddings for soldiers who were forbidden to marry and for ministering to Christians, who were persecuted under the Roman Empire. According to legend, during his imprisonment, he healed the daughter of his jailer, Asterius. An embellishment to this story states that before his execution he wrote her a letter signed “Your Valentine” as a farewell.

Pope Gelasius I was, understandably, less than thrilled with this custom. So he changed the lottery to have both young men and women draw the names of saints whom they would then emulate for the year. Instead of Lupercus, the patron of the feast became Valentine. For Roman men, the day continued to be an occasion to seek the affections of women, and it became a tradition to give out handwritten messages of admiration that included Valentine’s name. Later, Pope Gelasius I muddled things in the 5th century by combining St. Valentine’s Day with Lupercalia to expel the pagan rituals. But the festival was more of a theatrical interpretation of what it had once been.

The ancient Romans may also be responsible for the name of our modern day of love. Emperor Claudius II executed two men — both named Valentine — on Feb. 14 of different years in the 3rd century A.D. Their martyrdom was honored by the Catholic Church with the celebration of St. Valentine’s Day. After Valentine’s death, he was named a saint. As Christianity spread through Rome, the priests moved Lupercalia from February 15 to February 14 and renamed it St. Valentine’s Day to honor Saint Valentine.

There was also a conventional belief in Europe during the Middle Ages that birds chose their partners in the middle of February. Thus the day was dedicated to love, and people observed it by writing love letters and sending small gifts to their beloved. Legend has it that Charles, duke of Orleans, sent the first real Valentine card to his wife in 1415, when he was imprisoned in the Tower of London. Around the same time, the Normans celebrated Galatin’s Day. Galatin meant “lover of women.” That was likely confused with St. Valentine’s Day at some point, in part because they sound alike.

William Shakespeare helped romanticize Valentine’s Day in his work, and it gained popularity throughout Britain and the rest of Europe. As the years went on, the holiday grew sweeter. Chaucer and Shakespeare romanticized it in their work, and it gained popularity throughout Britain and the rest of Europe. Handmade paper cards became the tokens-du-jour in the Middle Ages.

While the European folk traditions connected with Saint Valentine and St. Valentine’s Day have become marginalized by the modern Anglo-American customs connecting the day with romantic love, there are some remaining associations connecting the saint with the advent of spring. The day was first associated with romantic love in the circle of Geoffrey Chaucer in the High Middle Ages, when the tradition of courtly love flourished. In 18th-century England, it evolved into an occasion in which lovers expressed their love for each other by presenting flowers, offering confectionery, and sending greeting cards.

In 1797, a British publisher issued The Young Man’s Valentine Writer, which contained scores of suggested sentimental verses for the young lover unable to compose his own. Printers had already begun producing a limited number of cards with verses and sketches, called “mechanical valentines,” and a reduction in postal rates in the next century ushered in the less personal but easier practice of mailing Valentines. That, in turn, made it possible for the first time to exchange cards anonymously, which is taken as the reason for the sudden appearance of racy verse in an era otherwise prudishly Victorian. Paper Valentines became so popular in England in the early 19th century that they were assembled in factories. Fancy Valentines were made with real lace and ribbons, with paper lace introduced in the mid-19th century. In 1835, 60,000 Valentine cards were sent by post in Britain, despite postage being expensive.

In the United States, the first mass-produced valentines of embossed paper lace were produced and sold shortly after 1847. Eventually, the tradition made its way to the New World. The industrial revolution ushered in factory-made cards in the 19th century. And in 1913, Hallmark Cards of Kansas City, Mo., began mass producing valentines. February has not been the same since.

Today, Saint Valentine’s Day is an official feast day in the Anglican Communion, as well as in the Lutheran Church. The Eastern Orthodox Church also celebrates Saint Valentine’s Day, on July 6 and July 30, the former date in honor of the Roman Saint Valentine, and the latter date in honor of Hieromartyr Valentine, the Bishop of Interamna. In Brazil, the Dia de São Valentim is recognized on June 12.

Since the 19th century, handwritten notes have given way to mass-produced greeting cards. In the second half of the 20th century, the practice of exchanging cards was extended to all manner of gifts. Such gifts typically include roses and chocolates packed in a red satin, heart-shaped box. In the 1980s, the diamond industry began to promote Valentine’s Day as an occasion for giving jewelry.

The U.S. Greeting Card Association estimates that approximately 190 million valentines are sent each year in the US. Half of those valentines are given to family members other than husband or wife, usually to children. When you include the valentine-exchange cards made in school activities the figure goes up to 1 billion, and teachers become the people receiving the most valentines.

The rise of Internet popularity at the turn of the millennium is creating new traditions. Millions of people use, every year, digital means of creating and sending Valentine’s Day greeting messages such as e-cards, love coupons or printable greeting cards.

And so the celebration of Valentine’s Day goes on, in varied ways. Many will break the bank buying jewelry and flowers for their beloveds. Others will celebrate in a SAD (that’s Single Awareness Day) way, dining alone and eating self-gifted chocolates out of a heart shaped box. For your Valentine’s Day, wedding or party with a heart-like theme be sure to consider one of the many choices offered at American Stationery. A sampling of recommendations are listed below.

“Bee” Mine Invitation (2454) Perfect for engagement announcements or special Valentine’s Day celebration, these “Bee” Mine cards are sure to bring a smile to anyone receiving this invitation.

Gotta Have Heart Invitations (2354) A large red heart and a red border with white dots frames your words of invitation on these classic White invitation. They’re great for engagement announcements, birthdays, Valentine’s day parties, and any other special event.

Conversation Hearts Invitations (2417) These pretty invitations feature a conversation hearts border to frame your words of Invitation. Great for Valentine’s Day, engagement or wedding announcement.

Heart Of The Matter Memos (5762) These memo pads are sure to bring a smile to your face every time you use them. Three whimsical heart designs crown your personalization. Makes a perfect gift for your favorite Valentine.

Stitched Heart Return Address Label (2431) These pretty heart address labels will bring a splash of color to your mailings. Set includes 60 Mailing Labels Matching accessories sold separately

Gotta Have Heart Return Address Label (2110) Two red hearts frame your name and address on these classic white address labels.

Big Heart Address Labels (5765) Add a touch of romance to your correspondence with these adorable hearts return address labels.

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