Happy Valentine’s Day! While I enjoy this day, the historian in me is curious as to how this day came about. I hope I’m not the only one, so I want to give you the history of Valentine’s Day!
Valentine’s Day has a couple different origin stories. Like a number of many other days, it started as a local religious ceremony that was then adopted by Christianity.
The ancient Romans had a multitude of gods that reigned over different aspects of life and the world. There was a feast and festival called Lupercalia that was to celebrate a number of things. It took place in what is now mid-February and was a celebration of the origin of Rome as well as honor a god of fertility. This festival included goat sacrifices, smearing strips of the hide with goat blood, and marking both priests and women with the blood-stained hide. Women’s names were then pulled out of an urn and matched up with men for the festival. Many times, these matches resulted in marriage.
Christianity came about during the Roman Empire. Many Roman Emperors didn’t like Christianity and persecuted and often killed its followers. There were at least two or three Christian men who were named Valentine in the Roman Empire. One specific Valentine has a number of love legends that surround him. He was either believed to marry young soldiers and their partners, even after the emperor outlawed it (single men made better soldiers); fell in love with the jailer’s daughter; or healed the jailer’s daughter from blindness, causing her and her family to convert to Christianity. Regardless, these saints were all killed mid-February (on the 14th). In the 5th century (400s), the Pope at the time, Gelasius, declared Lupercalia to be un-Christian. He also declared February 14th to be the feast of Saint Valentine.
It wasn’t until Geoffrey Chaucer in the 1300s that Valentine’s Day started to be really associated with romantic love. He wrote a poem called Parliament of Fowls in 1382, “For this was on Saint Valentine’s Day/ When every bird comes there to choose his match/ Of every kind that men may think of/ And that so huge a noise they began to make/ That earth and air and tree and every lake/ Was so full, that not easily was there space/ For me to stand– so full was the place.” As birds chose a time to mate, so too did people start believing that people should choose their partner as well.
Shortly after, in the 1400s, records have the first written valentine. It was from Charles, Duke of Orleans, to his wife as he was in prison in the Tower of London after the Battle of Agincourt. After that, it’s believed that King Henry V hired a writer to compose a note to someone he admired.
Valentines, short notes, and tokens of affection continued to rise in popularity. Britain began celebrating Valentine’s Day in the 1600s, and it spread from there to the rest of the world. In the 1840s in America, Esther A. Howland began selling produced valentines. British factories also were producing valentines. Chocolate followed suit in the 1860s, and popularity has continued to grow. Today, Valentine’s Day is the second-largest card selling holiday in the world (after Christmas). Much of the world celebrates Valentine’s Day in some form or fashion.
I hope this was interesting and that you learned something new. I sure did. So, when you give a loved one a card or a gift today, you can thank the Romans, the Catholic Church, Chaucer, and a prisoner!