History of Valentines Day

History and Legends of Valentines Day
By Joanne Elliott

When you think of Valentines Day, what springs to mind? Red roses? Beautiful greetings cards? Extortionately priced gifts (if we’re lucky)?! But have you ever wondered where the tradition of Valentines Day actually came from in the first place? If you want to find out, read on...

Would you believe that there is historical evidence that can trace the history of Valentines Day back to Pagan times? The Romans were first valentines, even though they didn’t name it as such. In ancient Rome, February 14th was a special day. The ancient Greeks held celebrations in honor of Juno, the Goddess of Woman and Marriage, and Queen of the Roman Gods and Goddesses. (That is some workload, isn’t it?!) The celebration began on February 15th with the feast of Lupercalia. Love lotteries were held on the eve of the festival where girls’ names were written on paper, and the men all drew partners from jar for the festival duration.

There is proof that a man named St Valentine, or Vantinus, actually existed. And it is quite a romantic story! St Valentine was apparently a chaste man, but legend has it that he defied Emperor Claudius II by breaking the law and secretly marrying countless couples. (The Emperor had banned all marriage because he believed that these sorts of unions were weakening his army… what a sad man he must have been!). It is said that the Emperor Claudius found out about Valentine’s actions, and had him beaten to death. Valentine was martyred on February 14th, 269AD.

Another legend from the same period of time reads that Valentine befriended his jailors daughter during imprisonment. And his farewell letter read… (you’ve guessed it…) ‘From your Valentine’.

In 496 AD pope Gelasius set February 14th as a day to honor St Valentine, and decreed him the Patron Saint of Lovers. Even then, it happened that February 14th gradually became a day for exchanging love messages and simple gifts to partners or prospective lovers.

The early Christians frowned upon the whole idea of Valentines Day. Of course, at that time the focus was really rather erotic rather than sentimental. The Church tried to swap the tradition of the Romans by making up a new sort of ‘game’ where names of saints were given to would-be lovers. This did not go down very well, especially as it was expected that the individual would emulate the chosen patron saints’ virtues for the entire year! In the end, the Church came to a compromise, and settled on a romantic focus, rather than blatant eroticism!

‘Manufactured’ Valentines cards did not appear until the end of the 18th Century. And the Victorians were to thank for this. They really went to town with elaborate lace trims, silk, and satin. Cards were also individually decorated with embellished flowers, feathers, gold leaf, hand-painted details, and sweetly scented sachets. Why not try making your own Valentines cards in a Victorian style? It sounds like great fun to me...!

Until the mid 1800’s it cost too much to send Valentines cards in the mail. And would you believe that at this point in time it was the recipient, not the sender, who was expected to pay! (Can you imagine how much it would cost us all in spam e-mails these days? Perish the thought!)

It was only in the advent of the penny post that modern Valentines custom got so big. The industry is still expanding rapidly, and is the second most popular greetings card occasion; second only to Christmas.

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