What is the history and origin of Valentine's day? How did it start? Where did it's traditions come from? Read and find out the answers.
February 14 is Valentines Day, the day on which we celebrate and explore love in all it's many ideals. How a day for lovers came to be celebrated during the middle of February is an interesting and ages old story. The story of Valentines Day begins during the heyday of the Roman Empire, which held a festival every February. This Lupercian Festival was held in honor of the God of Fertility and during the festivities young men would get to choose their mate. At the time marriage was a common occurrence, but when Claudius became Emperor he changed all of that.
Fearing that men would refuse their duty to fight because they would not want to leave their wives behind, he outlawed all marriages. Young couples still fell in love though and still wished to marry and they took these desires to the Catholic Bishop Valentine who, understanding love, began to secretly marry couples. When Claudius found out, he had Valentine arrested and ordered put to death. While waiting in jail, Valentine began exchanging letters with the jailer's daughter and soon had fallen in love with her. The day he was to be beheaded, he wrote her one last note and signed it: "˜From Your Valentine'.
In 496 A.D. Christianity had taken over Rome and Pope Gelasius outlawed the pagen Lupercian Festival. Knowing it's popularity, he looked to replace it with something more "˜appropriate' and set aside a day in February to honor the martyr St. Valentine. Even though in 1969 the church removed St. Valentines Day from it's calendar of "˜official' holidays, it is still widely celebrated today.
Valentines Day is perhaps best known for its cards. This is a custom whose origins could stem from any number of places. One belief is that the tradition began when St. Valentine himself passed notes to the jailer's daughter. Another story is that children used to pass notes to St. Valentine while he was in jail. He was so popular that even after his death the children still placed noted through the bars in his empty cell. A third story as to the origin of passing out cards stems from a French Count who was captured and imprisoned in London. From his cell he wrote his wife letters, including a passionate set of poems which he sent to her in February.
However it truly started, Valentines Day cards are now sent at the rate of one billion a year, setting it just behind Christmas as the most popular card sending holiday. Valentines Day cards have been around in one form or another for hundreds of years. They became popular in the 1700's as handmade cards made with satin and ribbon and lace among other fineries.
By the early 1800's, commercial valentines began to appear. Some were so ornate that they cost upwards of ten dollars. An amazing sum for those times. By the 1840's cards were so intricate that some had moving parts. Up until the late 1800's, all of the mass-produced Valentines Day cards were made in England and other European countries. In the early 1870's a 19-year-old American woman named Esther Howland had the idea to begin producing commercial Valentines Day cards in America. She started out with three friends and her brother and in assembly line fashion began producing hand-crafted cards which were shipped around the country. By the end of the decade she was making over 100,000$ a year.
At the turn of the 20th century, a new form of Valentines Day card appeared the "˜Penny Dreadful'. Up until this point, cards were relatively expensive but the Penny Dreadful changed all that. They were just what the name implied, costing only one cent and completely bad. The cards were cheaply made, the artwork was amateurish and the coloring was uneven. On top of that the verses printed on them were not the most romantic of prose. They were more often "˜insults', taking swipes at old maids, teachers and the like. Still their low cost kept them popular for years.
Like many holidays, Valentines Day is a day of symbols. Walking around in the first few weeks of February, you can't turn a corner without seeing a red rose. The rose was sacred to Venus who is the Goddess of Love.
Another popular symbol of the day are birds, particularly doves and lovebirds. These are two birds which mate for life and it was once believed that they choose their mate in the middle of February.
Of course no Valentines Day would be complete without a multitude of hearts. It was once believed that the heart was the center of all emotion. People believed that when they gave a heart, they were truly giving all of the love and emotion that they possibly could give.
In the Middle Ages men would pull a woman's name out of a bowl. This would be the man's Valentine. To show his devotion, the man would wear the paper containing the woman's name on his sleeve for a week. This soon became known as "˜wearing your heart on your sleeve'.
And Valentines Day wouldn't be the same without a visit from Cupid, the winged cherub with a bow and arrow which he uses to place people into love.
The origins of Cupid can be traced back to the days of the Roman Empire. Cupid is a Roman God, the symbol of passionate love. (He is the son of Venus, who remember is the Goddess of Love.) Cupid fell madly and completely in love with Psyche, whom it happened was a mortal. This did not please Venus at all and she gave Psyche a particularly hard time, consistently tempting her and driving her off. Eventually, through a small series of human faults, Psyche was tempted to look into the "˜box of beauty' and when she did, she unleashed a deep slumber onto herself. Cupid then came to Earth and searched the world for her. He found her in her deep sleep. His love for her was so strong though that he was able to take the sleep from her and place it back into the box. Then he used an arrow to pierce her heart and awaken her.
Besides giving cards, candy and kisses there are some other interesting customs (both current and past) associated with Valentines Day. For instance, in England children take to the street, singing songs and passing out cards. In Denmark people give out pressed white flowers as a sign of their affection. In the 1700's, English women would write the names of men on small pieces of paper and then roll the paper up inside little balls of clay. They threw the balls into the water and the first paper that popped to the surface was the one with the name of the woman's true love. A popular belief is that if a woman goes to a graveyard and runs around reciting a certain chant, she will see an image of her true love. A similar idea held over from years past is that on Valentines Day a woman is to sit by her window. The first available man that walks by is the one who is destined to marry her.
There is a dark footnote that must be added to the history of this special day. The date: Valentines Day 1929. The place: Chicago. The event: The St. Valentines Day Massacre. It is still not completely clear who all of the players were that were involved and what the exact motives were, but this much is know: seven men were viciously gunned down in a Chicago garage. The men who did the shooting were dressed as police officers and were members of Al Capone's gang. The men who were shot were of a rival bootlegging operation. This was of course not the only gangland killing of the time, but it has grown to symbolize the mood and actions of Prohibition.
So as to not end on a dour note, a Bruskin-Golding study of the holiday discovered that 3% of all pet owners buy a Valentines Day gift for their pet.