Valentine’s Day is just a few weeks away …
Every February 14, all over the world and especially in the United States, candy, flowers, gifts and romantic messages are exchanged between loved ones. From ancient Roman rituals to the customs of Victorian England, find out more about this centuries-old holiday.
The history of Valentine’s Day starts with a little known fact: the month of February has long been celebrated as a month of romance. The story of the patron Saint Valentine, however, is much more intriguing.
The Catholic Church recognizes at least three different martyred saints named Valentine. One legend contends that Valentine is a priest who serves during the third century in Rome. When Emperor Claudius II decides that single men make better soldiers than those with wives and families, he outlaws marriage for young men. Egad! Realizing this injustice, Valentine defies the Emperor, performing marriages for young lovers in secret. When his actions are revealed, Claudius orders his death.
Other tales suggest that Valentine may have been killed for attempting to help Christians escape Roman prisons, where they were often beaten and tortured. According to another legend, an imprisoned Valentine actually sends the first “valentine” himself – a greeting to a young girl he falls in love with -possibly his jailor’s daughter- during his confinement. He signs the letter, “From your Valentine,” an expression that is still in use today.
The truth behind Saint Valentine remains hidden by the dazzle of his loving kindness personified in stories that all emphasize his appeal as a sympathetic, heroic and romantic figure. As a result of this reputation, Valentine would become one of the most popular saints in England and France by the Middle Ages.
Some believe that Valentine’s Day is celebrated in the middle of February to commemorate the anniversary of Valentine’s death around A.D. 270. Others believe the Christian church claimed the St. Valentine’s feast day in an effort to “Christianize” the pagan celebration of Lupercalia.
Celebrated at the ides of February, or February 15, Lupercalia is a fertility festival dedicated to Faunus, the Roman god of agriculture, and to the Roman founders Romulus and Remus.
To begin the festival, members of the Luperci, an order of Roman priests, would gather at a sacred cave where the infants Romulus and Remus are believed to have been cared for by a she-wolf or lupa. The priests would sacrifice animals for fertility and purification. They would cut the animals’ hides into strips, dip them into the sacrificial blood and take to the streets, gently slapping both women and crop fields with the red-stained hide. Roman women would welcome the touch of the hides because it is believed to make them more fertile in the coming year. Later in the day, all the young women in the city would place their names in a big urn. The city’s bachelors would each choose a name and become paired for the year with his chosen woman. These matches often ended in marriage.
February 14 Becomes Valentine’s Day Tradition
By the end of the fifth century, Lupercalia is outlawed as “un-Christian after Pope Gelasius declares February 14 as St. Valentine’s Day. During the Middle Ages, February 14 is considered the beginning of birds’ mating season, which begins to associate February 14 with the idea of romance, and love.
History of Valentine Greetings
Greetings exchanged at Valentine’s Day are popular in the Middle Ages, though written Valentines become popular after 1400. The oldest known valentine still in existence today is a poem written in 1415 by Charles, Duke of Orleans, to his wife while he is imprisoned in the Tower of London following his capture at the Battle of Agincourt. It is now part of the manuscript collection of the British Library in London, England. Several years later, it is believed that King Henry V hires a writer named John Lydgate to compose a love note to Catherine of Valois.
Americans probably begin exchanging hand-made valentines in the early 1700s. In the 1840s, Esther A. Howland begins selling the first mass-produced valentines in the United States. Known as the “Mother of the Valentine,” Miss Howland’s elaborate creations are made with real lace, ribbons and colorful pictures known as “scrap.” In addition, sailors all over the world would craft a Valentine for their sweethearts using tiny, colorful shells glued together in heart shapes.
Let Them Know They’re the Best
Easy Design Plaques for Valentine’s Day are not only customizable, they include a personal love note to your sweetheart. Just fill in his or her name, your message and “sign” it. oxoxox