Across the United States and other places around the world, February is celebrated by loved ones by exchanging flowers, candy, and gifts, all in the name of St. Valentine. The question that may cross one’s mind is, who is this saint and where did these traditions come from?
February has long been celebrated as a month of romance, and Valentine's Day as we know it contains vestiges of both Christian and ancient Roman tradition. The problem is the Catholic Church recognizes at least three different saints named Valentine or Valentinus, all of whom where martyred.
According to history.com, one legend says that Valentine was a priest who served during the third century in Rome. He was known to perform marriages when in was outlawed by Emperor Claudius II who decided that single men without families made better soldiers. When he was discovered, the Emperor ordered him to be put to death.
Other stories suggest Valentine may have been killed for attempting to help Christians escape harsh Roman prisons where they were beaten and tortured. Another legend says an imprisoned Valentine actually sent the first "Valentine" greeting himself after falling in love with a young girl who may have been the jailer’s daughter.
While some believe that Valentine's Day is celebrated in the middle of the month to commemorate the anniversary of Valentine's death or burial, others claim that the Christian church may have decided to place the St. Valentine's feast day in the middle of February in an effort to "Christianize" the pagan celebration of Lupercalia. This is celebrated the ides of February, or Feb. 15.
In addition to the Lupercalia feast, all the young women in the city would place their name in an urn and the city's bachelors would draw a name and pin it to his sleeve. The two would be paired for the year, which would often end in marriage. This is where the expression "wearing your heart on your sleeve" comes from.
Lupercalia survived the initial rise of Christianity and was later outlawed around the end of the fifth century when Pope Gelasius declared Feb. 14 as St. Valentine's Day. During the Middle Ages, in England and France, Feb. 14 was believed to be the beginning of birds’ mating season. It wasn't until much later that the holiday was associated with human love and romance.
The oldest known Valentine still in existence today is a poem written in 1415 by Charles, Duke of Orleans, to his wife while he was imprisoned in the Tower of London following his capture at the Battle of Agincourt. The greeting is now a part of the manuscript collection of the British Library in London, England.
In the 18th century it was a common practice for friends and lovers to exchange handwritten notes or tokens of affection.
It wasn't until the 1840's that Esther A. Howland began creating and selling the first mass-produced Valentine’s in America. She was known as the "Mother of the Valentine" for making elaborate creations with lace, ribbons and pictures.
According to the Greeting Card Association, an estimated one billion Valentine's Day cards are sent each year, making Valentine's Day the second largest card selling holiday of the year ... Christmas being first with an estimated 2.6 billion cards sent each year.
In addition to the United States, Valentine's Day is celebrated in Canada, Mexico, the United Kingdom, France and Australia.