April 15, 2024

Modern Valentine’s Day is full of chocolates, pink hearts, and big bunches of roses. The origins of the holiday however, began quite differently and are surrounded in much mystery.
According to History.com, there are several historical figures known as Saint Valentine or Valentinus, all of which were martyred. A common legend known to many Americans features Saint Valentine as a priest in the Roman Empire during the third century. During this time period, the Romans were seeking methods to strengthen their army and Emperor Claudius II decided that single men would make better soldiers than married men. Under the pretext that families distracted men from the responsibilities of the battlefield, Claudius declared marriage illegal for all young men.
The stories say that Valentine was outraged by the injustice of this law and decided to stand up to Claudius. He continued to perform marriage ceremonies for young lovers, awarding the couples the marriage rites of the Catholic Church. When Claudius discovered Valentine’s crime, he had the priest sentenced to death.
One theory suggests that Valentine’s Day is celebrated in February because it is similar to a pagan holiday called Lupercalia. The holiday celebrated the Roman god of agriculture, Faunus, and was meant to celebrate the fertility of the land. In order to ease the transition from paganism to Christianity, the Christian church moved the dates of several holidays to align with those in the pagan tradition that have similar messages.
Eventually, Lupercalia was outlawed and Feb. 14 was declared Valentine’s Day by Pope Gelasius. The first Valentine was created sometime after 1400, though Valentine’s Day greetings were common before then. A poem written in 1415 by the Duke of Orleans is the oldest known Valentine that still exists today. He wrote the note for his wife when he was imprisoned in the Tower of London after being captured in the Battle Agincourt.
By the middle of the 18th century, it was common for friends and family, as well as lovers, to exchange Valentine’s Day cards. The first mass produced Valentines in America were sold by Esther Howland during the 1840s, a practice that earned her the name the “Mother of the Valentine.” She made her cards with ribbons, lace, and colorful pictures.
Today, the Greeting Card Association estimates that 1 billion Valentine’s Day cards are sent every year. This makes Valentine’s Day the second largest card sending holiday, right after Christmas. In addition to the United States, the holiday is celebrated in many countries including Canada, Mexico, and the United Kingdom. Although experts say that the holiday was not primarily focused on love in its origins, years of history has transformed Valentine’s Day into a celebration of romance and chocolate.

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