Valentine’s Day—A short history
To most of us today in the U. S. and other countries, Valentine’s Day is a time to send cards, candy, flowers, and gifts to loved ones as an affectionate gesture. It is also a day known as Saint Valentine’s Day or the Feast of Saint Valentine, which is an annual holiday celebrated on February 14, and honoring one or more saints named Valentine or Valentinus.
The history of Valentine’s Day is clouded in almost two thousand years of mystery and goes as far back as the Christian and ancient Roman tradition. The Catholic Church martyred three saints named Valentine or Valentinus. And according to legend, one of those was a priest who went against orders and secretly married young lovers, another story tells of a Valentine who may have been killed helping Christians escape Roman prisons. And yet another story tells of an imprisoned Valentine who just before his execution, sent the first valentine greeting to a young girl whom he loved and signed the letter “From your Valentine.”
The details behind the legends are sketchy, but it’s believed Valentine’s Day is celebrated in February to commemorate the anniversary of Valentine’s death which occurred around A.D. 270. Others, however, reason that it resides in February in an effort to “Christianize” the pagan celebration of Lupercalia, a Roman festival in the middle of February which celebrated the beginning of their springtime. Eventually, the church turned the festival into a Christian celebration and dedicated it to the remembrance of St. Valentine.
As part of the celebration, it is thought that the single girls would place their name in a vessel of some sort, and a single boy would draw a name and become paired with the girl for the festival and throughout the year. In some cases, they ended up getting married. The festival became known as a time of romance, and by the seventeenth century, Valentine’s Day began to be popularly celebrated.
After receiving her first valentine in 1847, Esther Allen Howland began selling the first mass-produced valentines in the United States. She ordered supplies of paper lace and floral decoration from England and began making the valentines to sell. Her valentines were in such demand; she employed friends to assist her. The business eventually grossed $100,000 annually, and in 1881, she sold the business to George C. Whitney Company.
No matter what the details, Valentine’s Day has become a time that romantics hail as the day to honor their sweetheart. Valentine’s Day has grown to the second largest card-giving holiday (Christmas is first) of the year with an estimated one billion Valentine’s sold each year, and probably many more being sent as homemade creations, or computer generated greetings.
A tradition almost as old as Christmas itself, Happy Valentine’s Day.