It’s such a beautiful sight seeing love in abundance every February 14th. Couples declare their ever-lasting love for one another through exchanges of cards, roses, chocolates and gifts. But have you ever wondered how Valentine’s Day came about? Let’s go back in history to discover.
There have been many legends about who brought about Valentine’s Day, all lurking around both Christian and ancient Roman traditions. The Catholic Church recognises two Christian martyrs, both named Valentine, who might have brought about this romantic day.
The two Valentines were Saint Valentine of Rome, a Roman priest who was martyred in 269; and Saint Valentine of Terni, a bishop who was martyred in 273. In various Christian denominations, both saints are honoured and remembered on February 14th. Before the execution of Saint Valentine of Rome, legend has it that he wrote a card to the daughter of his jailer, signing it as ‘Your Valentine’.
Although the Christian church may have honoured both Saints on February 14th, legend tells us that it may have also originated from a pagan festival called Lupercalia, which also occurred in mid-February. This festival took place in Rome and was a rite connected to both fertility and purification.
The Roman priests would sacrifice a goat for fertility and a dog for purification. Then they would walk the streets gently slapping women who desired to be more fertile with the goat’s hide, which was soaked in blood. After the festival, the city’s bachelors would pair up with a chosen woman and more often than not, this pairing would end in marriage.
The pagan Lupercalia festival became outlawed in the 5th century as it was seen as un-Christian. However, the head of the church at the time, Pope Gelasius, declared February 14th as Saint Valentine’s Day. The day then became associated with love as it was believed to be the beginning of birds’ mating season.
This was further established by Geoffrey Chauncer in 1382 who wrote a poem to honour the first anniversary of King Richard II of England and Anne of Bohemia:
For this was on seynt Volantynys day
Whan euery bryd comyth there to chese his make.
[“For this was on Saint Valentine’s Day, when every bird cometh there to choose his mate.”]
It wasn’t until 1797 in Britain when cards made out of paper lace with verses of romantic sentiments were printed in factories for young lovers. This gave way to mass-produced greeting cards in the 19th century.
In the 20th century, cards were given along with gifts such as roses and chocolates.
Diamonds started to make its appearance as the Valentine’s gift of choice in the 1980s.
Our digital age has seen the rise of e-Valentine cards sent online. An estimated 15 million e-cards were sent in 2010.
Around the world, around 150 million Valentine’s Day cards are exchanged between lovers, second only to Christmas greetings.
To-morrow is Saint Valentine’s day,
All in the morning betime,
And I a maid at your window,
To be your Valentine.
Then up he rose, and donn’d his clothes,
And dupp’d the chamber-door;
Let in the maid, that out a maid
Never departed more.
— William Shakespeare, Hamlet, Act IV, Scene 5
Regardless of how Valentine’s Day came about, it is a beautiful tradition that has people celebrating love all over the world. I hope that you have a wonderful day today – Happy Valentine’s Day!