Did you know Valentine’s Day has not always been all hearts and flowers?
Valentine’s Day has many meanings but the most widely celebrated notion about romantic love is perhaps the most recent. Valentine’s Day is celebrated in the United States, Canada, Mexico, the United Kingdom, France and Australia. In England, exchanging small tokens of affection or handwritten notes became popular for all social classes in the 17th century. In the United States the exchange of hand-made valentine notes and tokens of affection became popular in the early 1700’s. Esther A. Howland became known as the “Mother of the Valentine” by selling the first mass-produced valentines in America. Her valentines were made from lace, ribbons and colorful pictures known as scrap. Today, greeting cards are by far the most exchanged Valentine’s Day gift with an estimated 1 billion cards sent each year. Red, pink and purple hearts, cupids, doves, flowers (usually roses) and chocolate candy in heart-shaped boxes are the common modern symbols of Valentine’s Day.
Valentine’s Day has several origins documented throughout history. The Catholic Church recognizes several different Valentine’s that achieved sainthood and martyrdom. A legend from the Roman times states that Valentine was a priest that married soldiers against the Roman Emperor Claudius II’s wishes. Claudius believed that single soldiers were better soldiers and had Valentine executed for marrying his soldiers. Another story states that Valentine was executed for helping Christians escape Roman prisons where they were tortured and beaten. In another, Valentine allegedly fell in love with a young girl who visited him during his confinement. Before his death he wrote a letter to the girl and signed it “from your Valentine”. The phrase stuck and is still used today.
In Roman times, Valentine’s Day was thought to represent the pagan festival of Lupercalia. Sacrificing a goat for fertility and a dog for purification were part of the yearly ceremony of fertility that was outlawed by Christianity in the 5th century. Lupercalia also saw women being slapped with strips of goat skin, believing they would be fertile for the upcoming year. During the festival, the single women would put their names in an urn. The eligible bachelors would each choose a name from the urn and become paired with that woman for the next year. Many pairings resulted in marriages thus starting the romantic love persona that has become Valentine’s Day. The Middle Ages saw France and England believing the February 14th was the first day of birds’ mating season –adding to the romantic love notion.
Whether you celebrate romantic love or fertility have a Happy Valentine’s Day!