A Brief History of Valentine’s Day
As the holiday looms closer, we start to wonder, what is the meaning of Valentine’s Day? Is it chocolates and romantic cards? Flowers and sparkly jewelry? In fact, it’s none of those things while also being all of those things. Valentine’s Day sprung out of a simple idea in Europe and has spread across the globe.
A popular account of Saint Valentine of Rome states that he was imprisoned for performing weddings for soldiers who were forbidden to marry, and for ministering to Christians, who were persecuted under the Roman Empire. According to legend, during his imprisonment, he healed the daughter of his jailer, Asterius. An embellishment to this story states that before his execution he wrote her a letter signed “Your Valentine” as a farewell.
There is actually very little known about Saint Valentine the person. It is thought that he was martyred and given sainthood, but it is also thought that he could have been more than one person with the same name. Common lore has him listed as Bishop of Terni, Narnia, and Amelia, in the town of Umbria. He was arrested for preaching his religion, and released after restoring sight to a blind girl. Eventually he was arrested again, put to death, and given sainthood. At no time during his life, was he ever associated with romantic love. In actual fact, more commonly, his name was associated with sacrifice.
Valentine’s Day Then and Now
The fact is, St. Valentine and romantic love have no known common connection. It is widely thought that the two were brought together because of a 14th century poem by Chaucer called, “Valentines”. In many Greek and Roman customs, the time around Valentine’s Day was reserved for fertility celebrations, or for the love of Zeus for Hera.
In the 19th century, the popularity of greeting cards began to skyrocket. Valentine greetings of that day were handmade, using lace and ribbons, and due to the low price of postage, almost 60,000 Valentine’s were sent out! How the practice of sending Valentine greetings each year has spread across the world is a story of chance. A young woman named, Esther Howland, received a Valentine from a business associate of her father from England. She became so intrigued with the idea of sending such cards to loved ones, that she began creating the greeting cards herself. She is often thought to be the creator of greeting cards in general, and is even celebrated by the Greeting Card Association for being a visionary in the field.
Today, Valentine’s Day is a day of romantic love for many. They use gifts of chocolates, flowers, cards, and other baubles to proclaim their love for one another. It has most certainly lost its archaic roots!
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