From the time that we enter kindergarten, we’re told about February 14th. Valentine’s Day, the day where we exchange flowers, candies, and cards to those we love or are in love with. But, have you ever wondered why we celebrate Valentine’s Day or where did it start? What is the real story of Valentine’s Day?
Where Did Valentine’s Day Come From
The Ides of February (February 15th) was sacred to the Romans, it marked a fertility festival. Lupercalia was a fertility festival dedicated to Faunus, the Roman God of Agriculture, and the twins Romulus and Remus, the mythological founders of Rome.
The Priests of Luperci would gather at the cave that’s said to be the birthplace of Romulus and Remus.
There they would sacrifice a goat, for fertility, and a dog, for purification. Then they would skin the goat and cut its hide into strips to dip into sacrificial blood. The priests would then walk through the streets of the city, gently slapping women and crop fields with the sacred strips. The women accepted these slaps because they believed it would make them fertile in the coming year.
As the day progressed, the young women of the city would gather and place their names in a large urn. Then the unmarried men of the city would draw a name from the urn. For the next year, these two were paired together. Some of these pairings would lead to marriage.
Talk about a blind date!
How Many Valentines Does It Take
There were at least three different saints named Valentine or Valentinus, according to the Catholic Church. All three were martyred.
One such Valentine was said to have served in Rome around the third century. Emperor Claudius II felt that single men made much better soldiers than men who had wives and kids. As such, he passed a decree that all single men would be “drafted” into the army.
Valentine did not agree with Claudius’ decree, he felt it was an injustice to the people. As such, he continued to marry single men and women in secret. Claudius found out about this treachery and put Valentine to death.
Another story suggests that Valentine was a priest who helped Christians escape Roman dungeons, where they endured beatings and torture. For this, he was put to death.
Another suggests that the true namesake of the holiday was Saint Valentine of Terni, who was also beheaded by Claudius.
In a variation of these stories, while waiting for his death sentence, Valentine fell in love with a young girl. This girl visited with Valentine before his death and spoke with him often. The legend goes that he wrote a letter to this girl and signed it with the phrase, “From Your Valentine.”
An expression that is still used to this day!
No one knows the truth of these legends. The one unifying fact behind them is that Valentine was sympathetic, heroic, and a romantic figure. Thanks to his reputation and legends, he would become the most popular saint by the Middle Ages.
The Christian Connection
While most stories say that St. Valentine’s Day was celebrated in the middle of February to honor the death of its namesake – around 270 AD. Others suggest that it was placed in February as a means to “Christianize” the Romans and their celebration of Lupercalia.
Lupercalia had survived the beginning of Christianity, by the 5th century, it was deemed un-Christian and outlawed. It was Pope Gelasius who finally declared February 14th as St. Valentine’s Day.
But it wasn’t until much later that this holiday was associated with love.
Birds Do It, Bees Do It
In England and France, during the Middle Ages, it was believed that birds began their mating season on, or around, February 14th. This added to the idea that the holiday revolved around romance.
Yet, it wasn’t until 1376 in the poem “Parliament of Foules” that Geoffrey Chaucer recorded that St. Valentine’s Day was a day of romantic celebration, according to the History Channel.
Babies With Bows And Arrows
Most of us are familiar with the naked and winged baby who flies around shooting arrows of love to unsuspecting people. After all, we see these images on Valentine’s Cards. But what if I told you this is not the actual progenitor of love.
The Roman God Cupid has his roots in the Greek God Eros. Eros was a handsome God with a penchant for shooting golden arrows at people to incite love and lead arrows to cause discord. He loved toying with the emotions of mortals.
It wasn’t until somewhere between 323 BC and 31 BC, the Hellenistic period, that the image of Eros changed to the more modern chubby cherub we are familiar with today.
Will You Be My Valentine
Historically, Valentines always fell somewhere between the 14th and 18th. It was common for friends and lovers to exchange small tokens of affection and handwritten declarations of devotion.
The oldest known Valentine’s note dates back to 1415 and is part of a collection in the British Library in London, England. Charles, the Duke of Orleans was imprisoned in the Tower of London, awaiting his sentence. At the time, he penned a note to his wife professing his love for her.
American immigrants brought St. Valentine’s Day with them to the new world and were exchanging hand-made tokens of affection, at that time.
Do you remember making hand-made Valentines as a kid? You have Esther A Howland, the Mother of the Valentines, to thank for that. She used real lace, ribbons, and colorful pictures to create her elaborate tokens.
It wasn’t until the 1900s that mass-produced Valentines came to be. Due to improvements in printing technology, the ready made cards allowed people to express their feelings at a time when open expression was frowned upon. During this time, with low postage costs, there was an increase in mailing these cards to your secret love.
Today, an estimated 145 million Valentine’s Cards are sent each year. Making Valentine’s Day the second largest card sending holiday of the year, behind Christmas.
By the second half of the 20th century, we saw cards used in all manner of gift-giving.
Sweets For The Sweets
Have you ever wondered why there is an association between chocolates and Valentine’s Day?
Cadbury may be the reason why. It was that company that figured out a way to use cocoa butter to mass produce a good tasting chocolate bar that was affordable to all. Before that time, it was limited to the very rich.
In America, Milton Hershey started manufacturing chocolate in the shape of what he called a “kiss.”
But it was until the chocolatier Russell Stover that these confections became associated with the holiday.
In 1923, Stover and her husband started selling chocolates wrapped in heart shaped boxes. This was monumental to people, at the time. Their first boxes were covered in red satin and trimmed in black lace and called “The Secret Lace Heart.”
An Aphrodisiac Fit For Gods
While the boxes were instrumental in cementing chocolates for this holiday, it wasn’t the only reason.
Since the times of Aztecs, chocolate was considered an aphrodisiac. It’s said to contain “a substance that inflames desires and makes loved ones more open to romance.” From here, European royalty created the tradition of giving chocolate mixed with amber to their lovers to stimulate their love.
There are studies that show women who eat chocolate are said to show more desire for romance than those who did not eat it. We do know that chocolate, when eaten, releases chemicals that soothe the brain, this causes an increase in energy and desire levels. It is also proven to produce a natural high that elevates mood and is often equated to the feeling of love.
The Greeks call chocolate “Theobroma Cacao” (the scientific name for the cacao tree), which means the “food of the gods.” For the Mayans, Cacao was a god called Ek Chuah and was very sacred.
The Aztecs used cacao beans as food, drink, and currency for their elite class.
A Rose By Any Other Name
Did you know that the tradition of giving roses for Valentine’s Day dates back to the reign of King Charles II of Sweden in the 17th century? He’d been exposed to a new art form called the “language of flowers” on a trip to Persia. This art form relied on a person communicating by only using flowers and no words. You had to use a list of flowers associated with specific meanings to convey your message.
If you gave someone a yellow carnation, it meant they had disappointed you. If you gave them a red rose, then you can guess that it means you had deep affections towards them.
This came in part due to the rose’s association with the Goddess Aphrodite, the goddess of love.
In 2019, reports say people spent an estimated $20.7 billion on Valentine’s Day. Of that, $1.9 was on flowers, alone.
Whether you believe that Valentine’s Day is a commercial holiday or one for expressing your love to another, it is still one of the single most celebrated holidays of the year. It’s a day for people to express their love for each other, more than the rest of the year.
And remember if you can be with the one you love, then love the one you are with. After all, it is Valentine’s Day, a day for expressing love in all forms. Remember that the best Valentine’s Day gifts are the ones from the heart.