The cynic will tell you that Saint Valentine’s Day… or just Valentines’ Day as it has now been shortened, is bunch of hooey… a made-up celebration designed to sell flowers and candy. Actually, there is quite a history to the day… and it’s worth knowing more about how it all came about, before you think a box of chocolates and cheesy card are the true meaning.
First of all… who is Valentine? Not WHAT is a valentine. Trying to determine who is Valentine is not as easy as it might seem… you see while the history of Valentine's Day is sometimes debated, it clearly links back to a Catholic saint named St. Valentine.
The problem is there are actually three St. Valentine's -- one a priest, one a bishop, and little is known about the third. All were martyrs. No matter what story you believe, all three of these guys paid a big price to still be mentioned today. The legends are fascinating.
One legend says that a Roman emperor banned soldiers from marrying in the third century, but St. Valentine took issue with this. He became an advocate for soldiers and was executed as a result of his outspokenness.
Another legend says St. Valentine (different guy altogether), was executed for his beliefs in Christianity and just before he died, he left a farewell note for a loved one and signed it "From Your Valentine."
A conventional and widely accepted belief about the holiday itself is that Valentine's Day grew out of a Middle Ages tradition of celebrating Feb. 14 as the day "the birds began to pair."
History.com notes that February has long been associated with being a month of love, and Feb. 15 was celebrated in ancient times as a fertility festival. Now, we’re talking.
Let’s go with the most popular story that actually combines two legends.
Some experts make the claim that Saint Valentine was a Roman citizen who was martyred because he refused to give up Christianity. Now, this story has been around for quite some time… (several centuries longer than Hallmark Greeting cards, I may point out) .
In fact Valentine… or Saint Valentine to be precise died on February 14 in the year 269 AD.
As the story goes, Valentine had become friends with the daughter of the jailer… and just before he met his untimely end… he left a note for her, and signed it, “from your Valentine.” Which, of course, made sense… since that was his name. OK. I’ll buy that story… but of course, there are others.
Oh. As a sidebar, it was almost 230 years later when Pope Gelasius (don’t worry, I never heard of him either) set aside February 14th to honor St. Valentine.
Some claim that the Romans set aside the day of February 14th to honor Juno… who was the Queen of the Roman gods and goddesses. Juno also was thought of as the Goddess of women and marriage.
Now, before you say, “so what,” it seems as though the following day, Feb 15 was when the Festival of Lupercalia began, and it had become the custom whereby the young Roman girls would write their names on slips of paper and place them in a jar. You see, most of the year in the Roman times… the lives of the boys and girls were very separate… but once they drew a girl’s name from the jar… the young Romans would pretty much be matched together for the duration of the year-long Festival… and it often happened that they fell in love and ultimately, got married. (Kind of like the TV Shows… The Bachelor, or The Bachelorette of ancient times)
Claudius II, (who obviously was some kind of scoundrel, since he is often referred to as Claudius the Cruel)… was having a hard time recruiting for his army and he thought the reason was because the young Romans didn’t want to leave their girls and go to war… (chances are he was probably right… but that’s not the end of it). So just to live up to reputation, Claudius cancelled all weddings and engagements.
Well, you see Saint Valentine, who was a priest… didn’t buy that malarkey, and was secretly marrying young couples in love. That didn’t go over too well with Caudius who ordered Valentine to be arrested… beaten to death with clubs… and then… if that weren’t enough… beheaded.
All of that happened on February 14… and since it was the custom of young men choosing young women that caused the whole brew-ha ha in the first place… the day of February 14 was then… and for evermore… to be known as Saint Valentine’s Day.
In the United States, Miss Esther Howland is given credit for sending the first valentine cards. Commercial valentines were introduced in the 1800's and now the date is very commercialized. The town of Loveland, Colorado, does a large Post Office business around February 14.
According to the Greeting Card Association, an estimated one billion valentine cards are sent each year, making Valentine's Day the second largest card-sending holiday of the year. (An estimated 2.6 billion cards are sent for Christmas.)
Approximately 85% of all valentines are purchased by women. In addition to the United States, Valentine's Day is celebrated in Canada, Mexico, the United Kingdom, France, and Australia.
Valentine greetings were popular as far back as the Middle-Ages (written Valentine's didn't begin to appear until after 1400), and the oldest known Valentine card is on display at the British Museum. The first commercial Valentine's Day greeting cards produced in the U.S. were created in the 1840s by Esther A. Howland, known as the Mother of the Valentine, made elaborate creations with real lace, ribbons and colorful pictures known as "scrap."