Ever wonder about the origins of Valentine’s Day? Pull up a chair and grab a cup of coffee. We’re about to dive into the history behind the holiday celebrated the world over for lovers.
Valentine’s Day descends from the ancient Roman ritual of Lupercalia, which took place on the ides of March, otherwise known as March 15. Romans held a fertility festival dedicated to Faunus, the Roman god of agriculture. They also celebrated the Roman founders Romulus and Remus. How did they honor this god and creators of their way of life? With sacrifices of course.
Members of the Luperci, an order of Roman priests, gathered at a cave the Romans held sacred because they believed that was where their founders Romulus and Remus were raised by a she-wolf. There, they would sacrifice a goat for fertility and a dog for purification. Afterwards, they would strip the goat’s hide, slicing it into strips that were then dipped into the sacrificial blood. Once these strips were anointed with the sacrificial blood, they would be taken to the streets of Rome where women were slapped with them because everyone believed the ritual would make them more fertile in the coming year.
Women were not the only thing on the receiving end of those bloody strips of skin. Romans also slapped field crops because they believed it would help growth in the next year.
The festival then consolidated into the city where women would place their names in large urns where the city’s bachelors would then pull from lottery style. Those men were paired off with the woman whose name they pulled for an entire year in the hopes that a child would come from the pairing. Those partnerships often ended in marriage.
Eventually, Christians came along and deemed the festival barbaric. Feeling a need to replace the festival with a different holiday, around the end of the 5th century Pope Gelasius declared February 14 St. Valentine’s Day. However, the holiday would not necessarily be associated with the term “love” until much later. This is probably where the history books get murky on who the actual St. Valentine is. There are at least three documented “Valentine” or “Valentinus” that were martyred and recognized by the Catholic Church.
One “Valentine” was a priest who served during third-century Rome when Emperor Claudius II ruled. The Emperor decided that single men were more efficient soldiers than married ones with wives and families. He then outlawed marriage for young men. This “Valentine” saw the injustice of the situation, and chose to defy Claudius by continuing to perform marriages in secret. Once Claudius discovered Valentine’s actions, he ordered the priest be put to death.
The second “Valentine” candidate is Saint Valentine of Terni, who was a bishop. He was also killed by Claudius II, who had him beheaded.
The most popular candidate for the inspiration behind Valentine’s Day is the third “Valentine.” He is said to have been imprisoned, possibly for attempting to help Christians escape the harsh Roman prisons. There, in a Roman prison, he supposedly fell in love with one of his jailer’s daughters who would visit him during his confinement. It is said, that before his death, he wrote her a letter and signed it “from your Valentine.” This story was so well loved and spread by the people that, by the middle ages, Saint Valentine became one of the most popular saints in both England and France.
The oldest written valentine is dated 1415. It was written by the Duke of Orleans, Charles, to his wife while he was imprisoned in the Tower of London following his capture at the Battle of Agincourt. His greeting is still on record at the manuscript collection of the British Library in London, England. It reads, “My very gentle Valentine, Since for me you were born too soon, And I for you was born too late. God forgives him who has estranged Me from you for the whole year. I am already sick of love, My very gentle Valentine.”
Probably not the most romantic thing a person has ever written or read, but still an example of how the notion of love became acquainted with Valentine’s Day. Another obscure fact history has shown us is that, back in the middle ages, people in France and England believed that Feb 14 was the beginning of the bird’s mating season. A reference to this can be found in English poet, Geoffrey Chaucer’s poem, “Parliament of Foules.” There, he wrote, “For this was on Saint Valentine’s day, When every fowl comes there his mate to take.”
By the 17th century Great Britain was celebrating Valentine’s Day regularly. By the 18th century, it was common for friends and lovers from all social classes to exchange notes and small gifts.
In the 1840s, the “Mother of the Valentine,” Esther A. Howland, began selling the first mass-produced valentines in America. Howland created elaborate works with real lace, ribbons and colorful pictures known as “scrap.” The Greeting Card Association estimates nearly 145 million Valentine’s Day cards are sent each year, thus making Valentine’s Day the second largest card sending holiday of the calendar year. It’s estimated the United States alone will spend approximately $20.7 billion dollars for the holiday.
Truly, Valentine’s Day has been a long-standing tradition for many cultures to date. Spreading the world over, the holiday is now revered beyond the United States in Canada, Mexico, the United Kingdom, France and Australia. Everywhere you look, love is in the air, whether you appreciate that notion or not. Your best bet is to make the most of it. Whether you have a significant other or not, buy the roses, get the jewelry and don’t forget the candy. If you don’t have anyone you want to give them to, give them to yourself. Everyone deserves to be spoiled on Valentine’s Day! Who said you have to wait for someone else to give you the good stuff? And, if you need some ideas on what to buy for the International Day of Love, our vendors below would be happy to help you. In the meantime, remember that at least three “Valentines” died in order for us to be sappy and celebrate a holiday in the name of love.