Valentine's Day--the day where lovers get together to exchange sweets, book up every spot in every sit down restaurants, and go home to make the beast with two backs while the single masses curse the greeting card industry for this holiday. While the greeting card industry may have perverted this holiday into something horrible, they most certainly didn't invent it. The holiday has been celebrated (though not in the way we celebrate it today) since 498 AD to honor the martyr of Saint Valentine. However, throughout the annals of history, we seemed to have become confused on which Saint Valentine we are celebrating, as three were sacrificed and named saint around the same time.
The date of Valentine's Day, February 14th, also has some significance in history. Before Christianity took over in Rome, February 14th was part of the pagan feast of Lupercalia, which was a bit of a cleansing festival to purify the city and evoke fertility for the spring. However, after Christianity came to the forefront, St. Valentine's Day was placed over this feast date.
Who Was Saint Valentine?
Nothing but mystery surrounds Saint Valentine, the Saint of Lovers. It seems that no one can quite agree which Saint Valentine that Saint Valentine's Day is honoring. In fact, when Pope Gelasius I first established the feast of Saint Valentine on February 14th 496 AD, he did not specify which Saint Valentine they were honoring. There were three Saint Valentines by the time Saint Valentine's was created, though now there are 11 in total. It seems Valentine was a popular name in late antiquity.
The strange thing about these three Saint Valentine's that are honored at Valentine's Day is that they all lived around the same time and died in very much the same way, though each had slightly different variations to their stories.
One Saint Valentine was a priest in the Roman Empire. During the reign of Claudius II, the emperor engaged Rome in a number of bloody and unpopular campaigns. This demanded that he kept his army well stocked with soldiers; however he believed that the young men were not joining up because they were bound by their wives and children. So naturally, he outlawed marriage. This priest named Valentine continued to marry couples in secret. When he was discovered, he was placed in prison. It was in prison that he restored the sight of a blind her who fell in love with him. However, the love was ill-fated as this Valentine was beheaded for his crimes on February 14th.
This particular Valentine was a pious bishop in Terni, Italy. It was never stated what his crime was but he was imprisoned in Rome during a visit. He became rather popular in the prison cell among both the guards and the Emperor himself. However, his fate was sealed when he tried to convince Claudius away from his ban on marriage. Claudius had him beaten and beheaded on February 14th.
The third Valentine lived much like the first one. He ignored Claudius II's ban on marriage and married couples anyway, he was eventually caught and imprisoned. In prison it is said he fell in love with a jailer's daughter. Before he was sentenced to death by beating and beheading, he left a note for his beloved signed, “From your Valentine.” A sentiment we still use today.
Three Valentines, three very similar stories. This has led many to believe that this was just the story of the same person told in three very romantic ways. Stories have been known to mutate when passed down orally.
Early Saint Valentine's Day Celebrations
If Roman Paganism was still the religion of the day, Valentine's Day might be a bit more interesting. The main affair of Lupercalia was to sacrifice a goat or dog, cut strips from its skin then run around whipping all the women, who were all too willing as it was thought to increase fertility. All of this done while mostly naked and drunk throughout the city streets. Alas, the Romans knew how to party and did so far too hard. They paid the price for it and their debauched celebration has been thoroughly replaced by a much tamer affair.
Some believe that Saint Valentine's Day was celebrated on the 14th of February so as to celebrate the death and burial of the Saint himself; however others believe it was done in effort to Christianize the pagan celebration.
Evolution of Valentine's Day
It wasn't until Geoffrey Chaucer when Valentine's Day became much more centered on the idea of romantic love. Geoffrey Chaucer penned the Parlement of Foules that said:
''For this was sent on Seynt Valentyne's day'
Whan every foul cometh ther to choose his mate”
This popular verse further helped to create a romantic image of Valentine's Day festival during the Middle Ages. It stated that on this day the bird's choose their mates. Lovers, therefore, began to celebrate Valentine's Day by expressing love to their sweethearts with an exchange of love notes and simple gifts such as flowers.
It wasn't until 1415 when the first Valentine's Day card was created. The first card was said to be created by Charles, the Duke of Orleans. He sent this card to his wife while he was imprisoned in the Tower of London after his capture at the Battle of Agincourt.
It wasn't until around the 1800's when Valentine's became less personal and more commercial. It started with the British book The Young Man's Valentine Writer, which held suggested sentiments for a young lover who could not compose a love letter of his own. After this was published came the "mechanical valentines" that came with printed sentiments on them that lovers could mail. However they were not mass produced until the 1900's when they really took off.
In the 1900's it wasn't just Valentine's cards anymore, after card factories sprang up, jewellery companies as well as chocolate producers wanted to get in on the action. They started marketing to lovers near February and perverted minds of consumers into thinking that they needed to get their lover not just a card, but diamonds, chocolates and flowers as well.