History of Valentine’s Day

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  Valentine’s Day is believed to be named after St. Valentine of the Catholic Church. There are; however, three different saints with this name all of whom are martyrs.

  One St. Valentine lived in third century Rome when Emperor Claudius II outlawed marriage. He wanted single men because he thought they made better soldiers. St. Valentine defied the law and continued to marry people. When he was discovered, he was put to death.

  Another story is that St. Valentine was killed for attempting to help Christians escape from Roman prisons. St. Valentine found out that they were being beaten and tortured so he stepped in to help them.

  One legend has St. Valentine imprisoned where he sends the first “valentine” to a young girl he had fallen in love with; this girl may have been his jailer’s daughter. Before his death, he wrote the letter and signed it “From your Valentine”

  Why is Valentine’s Day in the middle of February? Some people believe that it is to commemorate the anniversary of Valentine’s death or burial. Others believe it was the church wanted to “Christianize” the pagan celebration of Lupercalia. Lupercalia was a fertility festival on the ides of February, 15th, dedicated to the Roman god of agriculture, Faunus, and Roman founders, Romulus and Remus.

  The festival would start in a sacred cave where Remus and Romulus were believed to have been raised by a she-wolf, lupa. A goat would be sacrificed for fertility and a dog for purification. The goat’s hide would be dipped in the sacrificial blood and women and crops would be hit with them. Young women would place their names in an urn and bachelors would pick out a name and become paired with that women. This would often lead to their marriage.

  Lupercalia did not disappear with the rise of Christianity but was outlawed when Pope Gelasius declared February 14th St. Valentine’s Day at the end of the 5th century.

  In Medieval Europe, February 14th was the beginning of the bird mating season. Valentine greetings were popular then, written Valentines didn’t appear until the 15th century. The oldest known Valentine is from 1415 written by Duke of Orleans, Charles. Later Henry V hired John Lydgate to compose a Valentine to send to Catherine of Valois.

  Valentine’s Day is celebrated in Canada, France, Australia, the UK and the U.S. It became very popular in the 17th century and became common for friends and lovers to exchange gifts and letters in the 18th century. By the 20th century, instead of handwriting cards, printed cards were used. In 1840, Esther A. Howland began selling valentines in America and became known as the “Mother of the Valentine.”

  This year, total spending for the holiday is expected to top $18.2 billion, according to the National Retail Federation.