As Valentine’s Day is just around the corner, many of us are wondering where does the tradition come from. So, we decided to share everything you need to know about the day when gifts are exchanged between loved ones in the name of St. Valentine.
The Myth of St. Valentine
There is a lot of mystery surrounding Valentine’s Day and it contains fragments of both Christian and ancient Roman tradition. However, who was actually Saint Valentine and how did it become associated with the celebration?
There are at least three different saints named Valentine or Valentinus recognized by the Catholic Church. Each one of these saints was martyred. According to one legend, Valentine was a priest who lived and served during the third century in Rome. So, when it was decided by Emperor Claudius II that all single men are better soldiers than those with wives and families, he chose to outlaw marriage for young men. However, Valentine released the injustice and decided to continue performing marriages for young lovers in secret. When Claudius discovered this, he ordered that Valentine should be put to death.
Based on other stories, Valentine was killed for his attempt to help Christians escape harsh Roman prisons. On the other hand, another legend suggests Valentine sent the first “valentine” greeting to a young girl while he was in prison. Allegedly, he wrote a letter and signed it “From your Valentine,” which is still used today. Even though all these stories are shrouded in mystery, each one of the stories portrays Valentine as a heroic and very romantic figure. Hence, Valentine became one of the most popular saints in England and France by the Middle Ages.
The Beginning of Valentine’s Day
Some stories claim that Valentine’s Day is celebrated in the middle of February to commemorate his death which took place around A.D. 270. Others claim that the Christian church decided to Christianize the pagan celebration of Lupercalia and moved it to the middle of February. Lupercalia was a fertility festival dedicated to the Roman god of agriculture, Faunus. At the beginning of the festival, the members of the Luperci, an order of Roman priests, used to gather at a sacred cave where Romulus and Remus have been cared for. These priests used to sacrifice a goat or a dog, stripe the goat’s hide into strips and dip them into the sacrificial blood. Then they would take them to the streets where the Roman women were slapped as it was believed that they will make them more fertile. Next, the women would place their names in a big urn and the bachelors would choose a name. The chosen woman often ended to be their wives.
A Day of Romance
Lupercalia was declared un-Christian and was outlawed by St. Valentine’s Day at the end of the 5th century. However, this day became associated with love only later. The idea that Valentine’s Day should be a day for romance appeared as February 14 was the beginning of birds’ mating season in England and France. In the Middle Ages, the Valentine greetings started and became very popular. However, the written Valentine’s appeared after 1400. It is believed that the oldest written Valentine’s was written in 1415 by Charles, Duke of Orleans. He wrote it to his wife while imprisoned in the Tower of London. Likewise, King Henry V hired John Lydgate, a writer, to write a valentine note to Catherine of Valois several years later.
Besides in the USA, Valentine’s Day is also celebrated in the UK, Mexico, France, Canada, and Australia. Valentine’s Day became celebrated in the UK in the 17th century. Then, the celebration became very popular by the middle of the 18th century that lover became exchanging small tokens of affection or handwritten notes. Printed cards became popular in 1900. In America, hand-made valentines appeared in the early 1700s.