Do you know the history of Valentines day? Have you ever wondered how Valentine's day came about? If not, you might find this article interesting!
Like many of our modern-day traditions and holidays, Valentine's Day, celebrated every year on February 14, is very deeply rooted in an original pagan celebration. The original pagan celebration was the Lupercian Festival held Feb. 15 honouring the god Lupercus, who is associated with Faunus, the Roman equivalent to the Greek god Pan. Lupercus was the god of shepherds. The Romans created a festival in his name - the Lupercalia - where goats were offered as burnt sacrifices and then strips of goat skin were cut by priests and handed to half-naked young men. These young men would run throughout the city of Rome "whipping" young women with these strips who believed it brought good luck ensuring fertility.
By the Fifth Century, Christianity had become the religion of choice in the Roman Empire and Pope Gelasius I substituted the Lupercalia celebration with a "holiday" honouring the martyred St. Valentine. And according to a popular legend about St. Valentine, he was a priest in Rome who lived during the reign of the Emperor Claudius. At this time, Rome was engaged in many bloody and lengthy wars which reduced the empires fighting legions. Claudius discovered that many young men refuse to join the army once they were married, not wanting to leave their wives and families at home. Therefore, Claudius declared that all marriages would be illegal in order to gain more soldiers for his fighting army. Valentine the priest was actually a romantic at heart and many love-struck couples came to him to perform a secret marriage. Then Claudius discovered what Valentine was doing and had him arrested and thrown in jail awaiting to be executed. Part of the legend states that Valentine became infatuated with his jailer's daughter who served in his meals. The legend says that on the last things Valentine did was to write a love note to this young lady signing it, "From your Valentine." The legend also states that he was executed on Feb. 14 around 270 A.D.
Valentine's dedication to love and his martyrdom at the hands of Claudius gained him sainthood after his death. During the fifth century, all pagan rituals and ceremonies were outlawed but it was incredibly hard to enforce these rules and regulations. Therefore, the Church went about trying to substitute many of these patent rituals with suitable Christian celebrations. The actual Lupercalia celebration had degenerated from participation of the Roman nobility to what many thought was a shameful activity pursued by the decadent poor. The celebration was a carryover from ancient Rome that marked the beginning of spring in the eyes of February on the 15th. The Romans were the first to institute the tradition of spring cleaning and consider this a time for purification. The Roman homes were purified with the sprinkling of salt and wheat throughout the home's interior. This cleansing and renewal process led to honoring the Roman god of fertility, Faunus, a chief agriculture deity. Part of the legend states that at one point in the celebration, all the young, unmarried women would place their names to be drawn by the city's eligible bachelors pairing with them for a year. Many of these pairings led to marriage. However, the early Christian Church would soon outlaw this unacceptable lottery coupling as immoral and un-Christian.
When the Christian Church sought to substitute pagan rituals with acceptable ones, many of the aspects surrounding the old pagan traditions were incorporated into the new ones. Pope Gelasius declared Feb. 14 as St. Valentine's Day in 498 A.D. Valentine quickly became known as the patron saint of lovers, thus transforming an old pagan celebration into a new - and acceptable - Christian one. Although Feb. 14 was chosen due to the accepted date of Valentine's execution, it became known as the universal day of love. Possibly, it was chosen because this date coincided with the date for the old Lupercalia celebration, offering Roman Christians an opportunity to denounce the old ways while keeping a celebration that had been active for centuries during this time of the year. The idea of "drawing" the name of young woman carried through the Middle Ages where young men, including school children, would draw the names of young women and then send them a poem - or cards - which became the origin for the first Valentine's Day Cards.
The term "valentine" has through the centuries become synonymous with a potential lover as well as the actual card itself. As a card, the oldest surviving specimen exists as part of the British Library manuscript collection in London. It is believed to have been authored by Charles, the Duke of Orleans, who was imprisoned in the Tower of London after the Battle of Agincourt. He wrote the romantic note, or card, to his wife in 1415. Traditions sprung up where writers during the Middle Ages and Renaissance period were hired by nobility to pen "love notes," called "Valentines." Once Valentine's Day began to be popularly celebrated by all social classes in the mid 18th Century, it became quite common for lovers to exchange small gifts and handwritten notes of loving affection. When printing technologies greatly improved at the end of this century, printed cards soon replaced handwritten notes making the exchange of love sentiments universal.
The 19th century found the first use of mass-produced cards where cheaper postage now made these love note exchanges increasingly popular. In America, an Esther Howland is attributed with selling the first mass-produced Valentine's Day cards. Today, according to statistics provided by the American Greeting Card Association, more than one billion Valentine's Day cards are sent annually. This makes it the second most popular card-sending holiday after Christmas (2.6 billion sent). Although more of the original handwritten Valentine ""love notes" were penned by men in declaration of their unending admiration and affection for the woman of their desire, today women purchase more than 85 percent of all cards sent. Also, the modern-day observance is celebrated in the United Kingdom and France plus was brought to the "new world" with English and French explorers and is also celebrated in Canada, Mexico and Australia as well as in the U.S.
Back to Homepage from History of Valentines Day
Back to Love and Friends from History of Valentines Day