In a few weeks, people all over the country will celebrate St. Valentine’s Day. Chocolate, flowers, cards and gifts will fly off shelves as spontaneous kissing erupts on street corners everywhere. But as you find the perfect way to tell someone you love how much they mean to you this February 14th, will you know the history of this special day? Well, if you keep reading you will.
Christian and Pagan Roots
With foundations in both Christianity and pagan rituals, Valentine’s Day–as we celebrate it today–contains threads from several well-known stories and legends. First, the Catholic Church recognizes three saints named Valentine or Valentinus (all martyrs). One was a priest who continued to perform marriages through the Roman government outlawed the bond, holding that single man performed better in battle than married ones. Another fell in love with a young girl while he was imprisoned, allegedly signing his letters “From Your Valentine.”
As for its pagan origins, many historians believe we celebrate Valentine’s Day in February because Christians, in their attempt to convert early pagans, aligned the holiday with the pagan festival known as Lupercalia, a celebration of fertility.
A Celebration of Love and Romance
Though Christians eventually outlawed Lupercalia in the 5th Century and Pope Gelasius declared the 14th of February Saint Valentine’s Day, the ritual never lost its association with romance. Valentine greetings can be traced as far back as the Middle Ages, but written words of love signed specifically as Valentines didn’t appear until about 1400. In fact, the first historically-recognized Valentine exists as a poem written in 1415 by the Duke of New Orleans to his wife. Skip ahead several hundred years and companies began mass-producing Valentine’s Day cards by the thousands. By the 1840s, these American greetings were decorated with ribbons, lace, and other various accouterments.
Valentine’s Day Across the World
Aside from the U.S., Valentine’s Day is celebrated in Mexico, Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, and France. Though individuals exchange small tokens of affection in many cases, handwritten notes and cards have become the most popular form of Valentine’s Day expression. According to the Greeting Card Association, Valentine’s Day sees approximately 1 billion cards exchanged, a holiday second only to Christmas (holding steady at 2.6 billion cards). Interestingly, women account for 85 percent of these purchases.
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