Every February 14, people across the world exchange candy, flowers and gifts between loved ones, all in the name of St. Valentine. While we all know when Valentine’s Day is, we may not know the legend behind St. Valentine and where the Valentine’s Day traditions came from? Discover the history of this holiday below.
The Story of St. Valentine
The real history behind Valentine’s Day and its patron Saint Valentine is shrouded in mystery. The Catholic Church recognizes three different saints named Valentine or Valentinus. One legend says that Valentine was a Catholic priest who served during the third century in Rome. Emperor Claudius II decided single men made better soldiers and he subsequently outlawed marriage for young men. Valentine supposedly saw the injustice of this order and continued to perform secret marriages. Once the priest was discovered, Claudius ordered he be put to death.
Valentine’s Day: Originally a Pagan Festival
Some people believe that Valentine’s Day is celebrated in mid-February to remember the anniversary of Valentine’s death, others think the Christian church may have placed St. Valentine’s “feast day” on the 14th as a way to “Christianize” a pagan celebration known as Lupercalia. Celebrated on February 15, Lupercalia was a fertility festival dedicated to the Roman god of agriculture and the Roman founders Romulus/Remus.
A Day of Romance
Around the end of the 5th century, Pope Gelasius declared February 14 St. Valentine’s Day. It was not until much later, however, that the day was forever to be associated with love. During the Middle Ages, it was commonly thought in France and England that February 14 was the beginning of birds’ mating season, which added to the idea that Valentine’s Day should be all about romance.
Valentine greetings were popular in the Middle Ages, but written Valentine’s cards did not appear until after 1400. The oldest known valentine is still in existence today. It is a poem written in 1415 by Charles, Duke of Orleans, to his wife. Years later, King Henry V hired a writer to create a valentine for Catherine of Valois.
Today’s Valentine Greetings Valentine’s Day is celebrated in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Mexico, France and Australia. In Great Britain, Valentine’s Day was first celebrated around the 17th century. By the mid-18th century, friends and lovers commonly exchanged tokens of affection or handwritten love notes. Around 1900, printed Valentine’s cards began replacing written letters due to printing improvements.
Americans probably began exchanging hand-made Valentine’s Day cards in the early 1700s. In the 1840s, Esther A. Howland began selling the first mass-produced Valentines in America. She is known as the “Mother of the Valentine” and made her cards using real lace, ribbons and colorful pictures. Today around 1 billion Valentine’s Day cards are exchanged each year, making Valentine’s Day the second largest card-sending holiday, with women purchasing around 85
percent of all valentines.