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History of Valentine's Day

Sorry this post is late. I wasn't able to finish it last night and had to finish it this morning.


Today we will be delving into the History of Valentine's Day, as well as some theories on who Saint Valentine was.


Valentine's Day occurs every February 14th, across Canada and in other countries around the world. Candy, flowers and gifts are exchanged between loved ones all in the name of Saint Valentine. But who is this mysterious saint nand where did these traditions actually come from.

The Legend of Saint Valentine

The history of Valentine's Day and the story of it's patron saint are shrouded in mystery. February has long been celebrated as a month of romance, and Valentine's Day, as we know it today contains traces of both Christian and ancient Roman tradition. But who was Saint Valentine, and how did he become associated with Valentine's Day.

The Catholic Church recognizes at least three different saints named Valentine or Valentinus, all of whom were martyred. One legend says that Valentine was a priest who served during the third century in Rome. When Emperor Claudius II decided that single men made better soldiers than those with wives and children, he outlawed marriage for young men. Valentine, realizing the injustice of the decree, defied Claudius and continued to perform marriages for young lovers in secret. When Valentine's action's were discovered, Claudius ordered that he be put to death. Others say that it was Saint Valentine of Terni, a bishop, who was the true namesake of the holiday. He was also beheaded by Claudius II outside of Rome.

Other stories suggest that Valentine may have been killed for attempting to help Christians escape harsh Romans prisons, where they were often beaten and tortured. According to one legend, an imprisoned Valentine actually sent the first "valentine" greeting himself after he fell in love with a young girl-possibly his jailor's daughter- who visited him during his confinement. Before his death, it is alleged that he wrote her a letter and signed it " From Your Valentine", an expression that is still used today. Although the truth behind the Valentine legends is murky, the stories all emphasize his appeal as a sympathetic, heroic and most importantly romantic figure. By the Middle Ages, perhaps thanks to his reputation, Valentine would become one of the most popular saints in England and France.

Origins of Valentine's Day: A Pagan Festival in February

While some believe that Valentine's Day is celebrated in the middle of February to commemorate the anniversary of Valentine's death or burial, which most likely occurred around A.D. 270 (again the truth is murky). Others claim that the Christian Church may have decided to place St. Valentine's feast day in the middle of February in an effort to "Christianize" the pagan celebration of Lupercalia. Celebrated from the 13th to the 15th of February, Lupercalia was a bloody, violent and sexually-charged celebration awash with animal sacrifice, random matchmaking and coupling in the hopes of warding off evil spirits and infertility. It’s true Valentine’s Day uses some of Lupercalia’s symbols, intentionally or not, such as the color red which represented a blood sacrifice during Lupercalia and the color white which signified the milk used to wipe the blood clean and represents new life and procreation. Like many ancient traditions, there’s a lot of haziness surrounding the origins and rituals of Lupercalia and how they influenced Valentine’s Day. Lupercalia is no longer a mainstream, public celebration for obvious reasons, but some non-Christians still recognize the ancient event on February 14 (instead of Valentine’s Day) and celebrate in private.

Valentine's Day: A Day of Romance

Lupercalia survived the initial rise of Christianity but it was outlawed as it was deemed d"un-christian" at the end of the 5th century, when Pope Gelasius declared February 14th St. Valentine's Day. It was not until much later that the day became associated with love. During the Middle Ages, it was commonly believed in France and England that February 14th was the beginning of bird's mating season, which added to the idea that Valentine's Day should be a day for romance. The English poet Geoffrey Chaucer was the first to record St. Valentine's Day as a day of romance celebration in his 1375 poem "Parliament of Foules," writing "For this was sent on Seynt Valentyne's day / When every foul cometh ther to choose his mate."

Valentines greetings were popular as far back as the Middle Ages though written Valentine's didn't begin to appear until after 1400. The oldest known valentine still in existence today was a poem written in 1415 by Charles, Duke of Orleans, to his wife while he was imprisoned in the Tower of London following his capture at the Battle of Agincourt. The greeting is now part of the manuscript collection of the British Library in London, England. Several years later, it is believed that King Henry V hired a writer named John Lydgate to compose a valentine note to Catherine of Valois.

Who is Cupid?

Cupid is often portrayed on Valentine's Day cards as a naked cherub launching arrows of love at unsuspecting lovers. But the Roman God Cupid has his roots in Greek mythology as the Greek god of Love, Eros. Accounts of his birth vary; some say he is the son of Iris and Erebus; others say of Aphrodite and Ares; while other suggest he is the the son of Iris and Zephyrus or even Aphrodite and Zeus (who would have been both father and grandfather).

According to the Greek Archaic poets, Eros was a handsome immortal who played with the emotions of Gods and men, using golden arrows to incite love and leaden ones to sow aversion. It wasn't until Hellenistic period that he began to be portrayed as the mischievous, chubby child he'd become on Valentine's Day cards.

Typical Valentine's Day Greetings

In addition to Canada, Valentine's Day is celebrated in the USA, Mexico, the United Kingdom, France and Australia. In Great Britain, Valentine's Day began to be popularly celebrated around the 17th century.

By By the middle of the 18th century, it was common for friends and lovers of all social classes to exchange small tokens of affection or handwritten notes, and by 1900 printed cards began to replace written letters due to improvements in printing technology. Ready-made cards were an easy way for people to express their emotions in a time when direct expression of one's feelings was discouraged. Cheaper postage rates also contributed to an increase in the popularity of sending Valentine's Day greetings.

Americans probably began exchanging handmade valentines in the early 1700s. In the 1840s, Esther A. Howland began selling the first mass-produced valentines in America. Howland, known as the "Mother of the Valentine," made elaborate with real lace, ribbons and colorful pictures known as "scrap". Today, according to the Greeting Card Association, an estimated 145 million Valentine's Day Cards are sent each year, making Valentine's Day the second largest card-sending holiday of the year, more cards are sent at Christmas. Women purchase approximately 85 percent of all Valentines.

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