Looking Past Romance
You’ve heard it before, probably from a guy who’s trying to be cheap, or a bitter girlfriend who’s feeling lonely: Valentine’s is just another Hallmark Holiday trying to get you to buy more unnecessary stuff. Though it may feel like this is the case, Valentine’s Day has little to do with Hallmark, and its history is a lot richer than a sentimental retailer.
Valentine’s Day actually dates back to the 5th century and is a liturgical holiday named after a Christian martyr, St. Valentine. Technically there are three different St. Valentines, all of which were killed on February 14, so it’s unknown as to which one the holiday origins are based. Plenty of legends about the roots of Valentine’s Day exist, so it’s hard to pinpoint its exact beginning. Theory states that the church Christianized a Roman festival known as Lupercalia. Though Lupercalia paired young girls and boys together, the name of the holiday is derived from Christian endeavors.
Saint Valentine of Rome was imprisoned for ministering to Christians who were persecuted under the Roman Empire. Valentine bravely attempted to convert the Emperor to Christianity, which lead to his being executed. During imprisonment, he performed a miracle by healing the jailer’s daughter, who, along with her entire family, came to know Jesus and were baptized. According to a legend, the daughter and Valentine fell in love. On the night before his execution, he wrote her a love letter signed, “From Your Valentine.”
As time progressed, Chaucer and Shakespeare romanticized the holiday. Valentine’s Day was first associated with romantic love via Geoffrey Chaucer’s Parlement of Foules which says, “For this was on St. Valentine’s Day, when every bird cometh there to choose his mate.” Ophelia mentions Valentine’s Day in Shakespeare’s Hamlet (1600-1601).
To-morrow is Saint Valentine’s day,
All in the morning betime,
And I a maid at your window,
To be your Valentine.
Then up he rose, and donn’d his clothes,
And dupp’d the chamber-door;
Let in the maid, that out a maid
Never departed more.
The earliest surviving Valentine is a 15th-century poem written by Charles, Duke of Orléans, who was held prisoner in the Tower of London. The Valentine written to his wife can still be seen today.
The custom of sending homemade cards, flowers, chocolates and other gifts originated in England in the 18th century. Valentines were made with real lace, satin, buttons, ribbons, and were decorated with images of birds, cherubs and flowers. Originally, they were religious in nature, but over time the Sacred Heart transformed into the Valentine Heart and the angels became Cupid. As the printing press became more established and postal rates decreased, mass-produced Valentine’s became popular. But, it wasn’t until 1913 that Hallmark Cards of Kansas City, MO began producing valentines in mass.
In the U.S., it is estimated that approximately 190 million valentines are sent each year. Half of those valentines are given to family members other than spouses. Teachers are the singular group of individuals who receive the most valentines. So, Valentine’s Day has broadened far beyond romantic love and has become a day of appreciation and recognition of those you love and cherish.