February 2, 2016

The Origins of Valentine's Day


Ah, February 14, a day that has become synonymous with commercialization.  A day many feel obliged to show their loved ones just how much they really love them by showering them with chocolate, flowers, and cards filled with mushy proclamations of love.  Romantic, right?
Valentine’s Day is celebrated in one form or another in many countries, but the overriding theme has become universal—showing affection.  The holiday has become known in the United States as a “Hallmark Holiday” (as in the greeting card company, Hallmark), and is seen as a day that was made up for commercial purposes (to sell more candy, flowers and cards) rather than to commemorate a traditionally or historically significant event.
While some holidays do exist solely for profit—take for example Sweetest Day, a holiday made up by candy makers in Cleveland, Ohio in the 1920’s—Valentine’s Day seems to have some deeper roots.
While the true origins of Valentine’s Day are unknown, here are some of the theories on how this holiday came about:

  • Saint Valentine: The Catholic church recognizes at least three different saints named Valentine, and it is said that all three were martyred on February 14th.  Legend has it that when Emperor Claudius II decided to outlaw marriage for young men because he thought single men would make better soldiers, the bishop Valentine secretly performed marriage ceremonies for young lovers.  When the Emperor found out, however, Valentine was sentenced to death. The theory proposes that after Claudius found out about Valentine’s actions, he was put in jail where he fell in love with the jailor’s daughter.  Before his death, Valentine wrote a farewell letter to the young girl and signed it “From your Valentine”—a phrase still used today.


  • The Feast of Lupercalia: From February 13-15, ancient Romans celebrated this pastoral festival dedicated to fertility and health.   As part of the festival, men would whip women with the hides of recently slaughtered animals, such as goats, as it was thought to increase fertility.  Some believe that the Christian church decided to place Valentine’s Day in February in order to “Christianize” this pagan celebration.


  • Bird Mating Season: During the Middle Ages in France and England, it was believed that February 14th was the start of mating season for birds, thus adding to the idea that mid-February should be a day for romance.


  • Valentine’s Day Cards: Throughout the Middle Ages, the celebration of love and romance on February 14th continued to grow, and the first written Valentines (i.e. love poems and long letters) began to appear in the 1400s.  In Great Britain, Valentine’s Day became especially popular in the 17th century, and by the middle of the 18th century, both lovers and friends from all backgrounds began exchanging small tokens of affection on February 14th

In the U.S. hand-made Valentines were exchanged among the early settlers in the 1700s.  Esther A. Howland created the first mass-produced Valentine’s Day card in the 1840s.  His elaborate creations were adorned with colorful pictures, real lace and ribbon—thus the affluent industry of pre-made Valentine’s cards was born.
Curious how Valentine’s Day is celebrated internationally?  Click HERE to read about various Valentine’s traditions in other countries.

Vday France
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Posted by Lindsey Walsh on February 2, 2016 at 4:34 PM in Holidays Permalink
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