The Unique History of Valentine’s Day

15 October 2017

Every year on February 14th, people across the world exchange flowers, candy, and gifts with loved ones in the name of St. Valentine. Have you ever stopped to wonder who this mysterious saint is and where these loving and thoughtful traditions originated from? In this blog, we’ll learn about the unique history of Valentine’s Day so you have an idea of how this holiday came to fruition.

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The Story Behind St. Valentine

While the history of Valentine’s Day is still considered to be a mystery, we know that it contains both Christian and ancient Roman traditions. The Catholic church recognized as least three different saints by the name of Valentine or Valentinus, all of whom were martyred. One well known legend contends that Valentine was a well known priest who served during the third century in Rome. It is believed that when Emperor Claudius II decided that single men made better soldiers than those who had wives and families, he outlawed marriage for all young men. Realizing the extreme injustice of this decree, Valentine defied Claudius and continued to perform marriage ceremonies for young lovers in secret. Once his actions were discovered, however, Claudius ordered that Valentine be put to death.

Other popular folklores suggest that Valentine may have been killed for helping Christians escape the harsh Roman prisons. According to one legend, an imprisoned Valentine actually sent the first “valentine” greeting to himself after he fell in love with a young girl who was believed to be his jailer's daughter. Before his death, Valentine allegedly wrote his girlfriend a letter that was signed, “From Your Valentine,” which is a loving expression that is still used today. While the truth behind the Valentine legends remain to be murky, the stories always emphasize a heroic and romantic figure. By the Middle Ages, Valentine would become one of the most popular saints across England and France.

A Pagan Festival in February

While many history scholars believe that Valentine’s Day is celebrated in the middle of February to commemorate the anniversary of Valentine’s death, others claim that the Christian church had something to do with the calendar placement of the holiday. It is believed that the Christian church decided to place the St. Valentine’s feast day in the middle of February in an effort to “christianize” the pagan celebration of Lupercalia. Lupercalia was celebrated on February 15th and was dedicated to Faunus, the Roman god of agriculture, as well as to the Roman founders Romulus and Remus.

This pagan celebration would begin when various members of the Luperci and an order of Roman priests would gather at a secret cave. It is believed that the cave was where the infants Romulus and Remus were raised by a she-wolf. The priests would perform a ritual where they would sacrifice a goat for fertility and a dog for purification. According to legend, on this day all of the young women in the city would place their names in a large urn where the city’s bachelors would choose a name to become paired with for the year.

While Lupercalia survived the initial rise of Christianity, it was eventually outlawed and viewed as “un-Christian.” At the tail end of the 5th century, Pope Gelasius declared February 14th as Valentine’s Day. During the Middle Ages, France and England believed that this special day of the year was the beginning of birds’ mating season. Although written Valentine’s Day greetings did not begin to appear until after 1400, the oldest known valentine is still in existence today.

A Day Of Love & Romance

In 1415, the Duke of Orleans penned a valentine to his wife while he was imprisoned in the Tower of London, following his capture at the Battle of Agincourt. Several years later, it is believed that King Henry V hired a writer by the name of John Lydgate to compose a valentine for Catherine of Valois.

Americans are believed to have started exchanging hand-made valentines gifts in the early 1700s. In the 1840s, a woman by the name of Esther A. Howland began to sell the first mass-produced Valentine’s Day cards in America. Also known as the “Mother of the Valentine,” Howland created elaborate Valentine’s Day cards with real lace, ribbons, and colorful pictures. Today, The Greeting Card Association estimates that more than one billion Valentine’s Day cards are sent each year. We hope that you’ve enjoyed this brief history lesson on Valentine’s Day. If you’re looking for the perfect gift to send a loved one for Valentine’s Day, consider ordering some of our beautiful Eternity Roses.

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