The History of Valentine's Day

Valentine's Day has always been a holiday celebrating love.

Valentine's Day has always been a holiday celebrating love.

Valentine’s Day is celebrated on February 14 in most parts of the world. If you’re in a relationship, you know it’s a time when gifts, flowers and candy are expected. The holiday, typically honoring romantic love, has grown from its mysterious origins to provide an occasion to shower anyone for whom you care about with gifts of affection. According to the National Retail Federation, in addition to their history of celebrating romantic love, Valentine’s Day gifts also provide a way to acknowledge love for anyone from children and parents to teachers and co-workers.

Christianity

The Roman Catholic Church has at least three saints attributed with acts of service worthy of having a day of love commemorating their existence, according to History.com. The saints were martyred for the acts they performed in the name of love. One, a Roman priest in the third century, is credited with helping young soldiers marry when the Empire outlawed marriage for soldiers because they believed single men made better warriors. Another martyr named Valentine sent letters secretly to his sweetheart who was his jailor’s daughter, signing his love notes, “From your Valentine.” Another Christian saint with the same name is credited with helping Christians escape from prison.

Themes

No matter the origin, all stories relating to the history of Valentine’s Day revolve around romantic and heroic figures who sacrificed in the name of love and compassion. France and England embraced these romantic figures, and by the Middle Ages, Valentine’s Day was a regular fixture in the Christian calendar. To retain the Christian aspects of the holiday, it is believed that the church proclaimed the date of February 14 in an effort to Christianize pagan festivals of fertility typically held near that time.

Pagan Celebrations

A pagan festival dedicated to the god of fertility, Faunus, was celebrated in February and may have had some influence in pushing the church to proclaim a special day devoted to lovers. During the Lupercalia festival, people swept out their houses and participated in an annual purification ritual by sprinkling their newly cleaned houses with wheat and salt. Roman priests sacrificed a dog for purification and a goat for fertility. Roman boys then took strips of the goat flesh and lightly slapped the girls in whom they were interested.

Modern Tradition

The tradition of giving gifts and small tokens of love and appreciation evolved around the middle of the 18th century in Great Britain. Americans followed suit, and with the invention of the printing press and the evolution of the postal system, exchanging Valentine’s cards became more popular. In the 1840s, Esther A. Howland sold the first mass-produced Valentine’s Day cards in the United States. She is credited with being the modern-day “Mother of Valentine’s Day.” Today, billions of dollars are spent on cards, gifts and flowers each Valentine’s Day.

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