Ahh, sweet Valentine’s Day… one of the most romantic days of the year for lovers. February 14th has long been celebrated as a day of love. But where exactly did this holiday come from?
The History of St. Valentine’s Day
The exact origin of Valentine’s Day is a little hazy. The Catholic Church recognizes at least three different martyred saints named Valentine or Valentinus that the holiday could be named after. One legend portrays Valentine as a priest who performed secret marriage ceremonies in third century Rome. Emperor Claudius II believed single men made better soldiers than those with wives and families and thus, banned his soldiers from getting married. Valentine wore a purple amethyst ring engraved with an image of Cupid. Soldiers recognized this ring as one customarily worn by Christian bishops and asked Valentine to officiate their forbidden marriages. Valentine performed these marriages and presented soldiers with hearts cut from parchment to remind them of their wedding vows. This legend is said to have helped amethyst become February’s birthstone and connected Valentine’s Day with its widespread use of hearts.
Another story says Valentine was sentenced to death for helping persecuted Christians. Before his execution, he miraculously healed Julia, the blind daughter of his jailer Asterius and wrote her a letter signed “From your Valentine,” creating the expression that is still used today.
Emperor Claudius II executed two different men named Valentine on February 14 on separate years in the 3rd century, but some believe the mid-February date may have been chosen to counteract Lupercalia, a pagan fertility festival celebrated by the ancient Romans from February 13-15. To start the festival, priests would sacrifice a goat to symbolize fertility and a dog for purification. The goat’s hide would then be cut into strips, dipped in the blood, and used to gently slap or whip (depending on the source) crops and women. Roman women believed this goat’s hide would make them more fertile and lined up for their turn. The festival also included a matchmaking ceremony where all the young women placed their names in a big urn for the city’s bachelors to draw from. This coupling would last for the duration of the festival or an entire year (again, depending on the source) and would often result in marriage if the match was successful.
Pope Gilasius declared February 14th as the feast of St. Valentine in 498 A.D., but the holiday did not become popular right away. According to History. com, “Valentine greetings were popular as far back as the Middle Ages, though written Valentine’s didn’t begin to appear until after 1400. The oldest known valentine still in existence today was 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 part of the manuscript collection of the British Library in London, England.) Several years later, it is believed that King Henry V hired a writer named John Lydgate to compose a valentine note to Catherine of Valois.”
Both Geoffrey Chaucer and Shakespeare romanticized Valentine’s Day in their writing, spurring growth in Europe, but Ester Howland is credited for popularizing Valentine’s Day cards in America. In the 1840s, inspired by a valentine was received from England, Howland began producing fancy cards embellished with real lace, ribbons, and colorful pictures. Hallmark Cards started printing Valentine’s greetings in 1913 and these ready-made valentines, along with reduced postage rates, allowed senders to express their feelings easily and sometimes anonymously.
Poets and writers have always tried to capture love with words. Here are some most beloved quotes through the centuries:
Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage.- Lao Tzu
Love is composed of a single soul inhabiting two bodies.- Aristotle
My bounty is as boundless as the sea, My love as deep; the more I give to thee, The more I have, for both are infinite.- William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet
Love has no desire but to fulfill itself. But if you love and must needs have desires, let these be your desires; To melt and be like a running brook that sings its melody to the night. To know the pain of too much tenderness. To be wounded by your own understanding of love; And to bleed willingly and joyfully.- Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet
Love is life. All, everything that I understand, I understand only because I love. Everything is, everything exists, only because I love.- Leo Tolstoy
I love you without knowing how, or when, or from where. I love you straightforwardly, without complexities or pride; so I love you because I know no other way than this: where I does not exist nor you, so close that your hand on my chest is my hand, so close that your eyes close as I fall asleep.- Pablo Neruda, “Love Sonnet XVII”
Love is so hard to describe or put into words, but the expression of love can be through so many different means… through beautiful, touching words that touch upon your heart strings, to giving your love a beautiful bouquet of red roses which symbolizes deep, romantic love, to a beautiful song, a box of chocolates, etc. May your Valetine’s Day be filled with love, laughter and romantic surprise. Ohh, and good food, of course!