February 14th. Valentine’s Day. A holiday celebrated around the world. However, not many people know the history of this lovey-dovey holiday, and it might be odder than you think.
Valentine’s Day was first celebrated at the end of the 5th century when Pope Gelasius I declared the Pagan celebration Lupercalia, a fertility festival, illegal and coined the day Saint Valentine’s Day.
The origins of St. Valentine, however, are unclear as the Catholic Church recognizes around 12 St. Valentines, as well as a Pope Valentine though not much is known about him other than he was pope for about 40 days around 827 A.D.
However, there are two main stories of a Valentine being executed in Rome on February 14th.
The first story states that the Roman Emperor Claudius II executed Valentine after being imprisoned for assisting persecuted Christians and secretly marrying Christian couples in love. The story says Valentine attempted to convert Claudius to Catholicism. The Emperor became enraged and ordered Valentine to reject his faith or die. Nevertheless, Valentine refused, and Emperor Claudius II had him beheaded on February 14th.
The other story of St. Valentine says that he might have been executed for helping Christian prisoners escape from the harsh Roman prisons, where they were often beaten and tortured. It states that during his imprisonment, Valentine tutored a woman named Julia, the blind daughter of his jailer, and that after the two prayed together God had restored her sight.
On the eve of his execution, legend states that Valentine sent the first ‘Valentine’s Day Card’ to Julia, and signed it “From your Valentine,” after which he was promptly beheaded.
It wasn’t until the middle ages that Valentine’s Day became associated with love, and people started exchanging Valentine’s Day greetings, but written valentines didn’t appear until after 1400.
The oldest known valentine still in existence was a poem written by Charles, Duke of Orleans, to his wife while he was imprisoned in the Tower of London. The poem is now a part of the manuscript collection of the British Library in London, England.
During the middle ages, it was commonly believed in England and France that February 14th was the beginning of birds’ mating season, adding to their feelings that Valentine’s Day should be about love.
In Great Britain, the holiday picked up speed in the 17th Century, by the mid 18th Century it was common for all social classes to send small tokens of affection and handwritten notes to friends and lovers, and by 1900 printed cards began to replace handwritten notes.
In America, handmade valentines were exchanged in the 1700s, and in the 1840s, Esther A. Howland began selling the first mass-produced valentines, elaborate creations of lace, ribbons, and colorful pictures.
According to the Greeting Card Association, approximately one billion valentines are exchanged each year in the U.S. alone, making it the second most popular holiday to send cards on, the first being Christmas when two billion cards are sent.
Valentine’s Day may not have always been the lovey-dovey holiday we know it as, but this February 14th be sure to give your loved ones a hug!