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The History of Valentines Day

Valentine’s Day

dozen red rosesThe History of Valentines Day & Progression to the Modern Age

Valentine’s Day, or at least the month of February, has been associated with romance, or at least lust, since Roman times. Perhaps more than any other day on which we celebrate, Valentine’s Day has a complex and fascinating history that warrants telling. Valentines day is now always February 14th.


Now the symbol of Valentine’s Day, Cupid became associated with the holiday at a leter date. Cupid was the son of Venus, the Roman goddess of beauty and love. (The name “cupid” comes from the Latin, “cupido,” or “desire”). Cupid’s role in the pantheon of gods was to wander, shooting the more powerful gods (and the occasional human) with magic arrows, causing the victim to fall in love.

Saint Valentine in Rome

The name “Valentine,” derived from the Latin “valor,” is a legend dating back to third century Rome. According to the most generally accepted legend, the Emperor Claudius II (“the Cruel”), discovered that he was unable to get sufficient numbers of recruits for his armies, because the young men of Rome did not want to be separated from their wives for the years required by some military posts, such as in England. Claudius’ cruel solution was to ban marriages. Valentinus, a priest, violated the law and performed marriages in secret. He was ultimately caught and sentenced to death. While in prison, Valentinus cured the jailer’s daughter of blindness, and she fell in love with him. On the night before his execution, Valentinus had a note smuggled to her. The note, after his anguished proclamations of love for her, ended with the immortal words “From your Valentine.”

Moving to the late fifth century Rome. For hundreds of years, the Romans had celebrated, in mid-February, the festival of Lupercalia, a celebration of god Lupercus, whom the earliest Romans had called upon to save Rome from marauding wolves. Part of the celebration involved a lottery, in which young men drew from an earthen jar the names of girls, with whom they would partner for the duration of the feast.

At this time, the relatively new Catholic Church was competing head-to-head with paganism. This lottery was a heathen tradition that was particularly offensive to the Church, and Pope Galasius attempted to change, by fiat, the tradition so that the earthen jar contained the names of saints, and the men who drew a saint’s name would try to demonstrate during the coming year as many of that saint’s saintly conduct as possible. Not surprisingly, this early attempt to legislate morality failed, and in 496 A.D. the Church settled for a compromise: it would continue the tradition of celebrating a particular person, but substituted a saint for the god Lupercus. That saint was Valentine, chosen because he was martyred for supporting marriage & romance and because his martyrdom had conveniently taken place in the middle of February. One important vestige of the original Lupercalia remained: men and women still conducted a drawing to select a partner, and that partner over time came to be referred to as the drawer’s “valentine.”

History beginning with Middle Ages

Fast forward again to the Middle Ages. The concept of romance in February is now intertwined with the idea that the middle of February was when birds began to choose their mates for the season.

It is generally accepted that the first valentine’s card was sent by Charles, the Duke of Orleans. The Duke, having lost the Battle of Agincourt in 1415, filled his idle time in the Tower of London by sending love letters to wife back in France. The fact that the first valentine was sent by a loser has apparently been lost on all the amorous souls pining after love over the ensuing 600 years.

By the 18th century, Valentine’s Day was commonly celebrated by the trading of hand-written cards. However, the commercialization of the Saint’s day was already beginning. People typically relied on valentine’s “writers,” book with verses and sayings that one could select and copy into one’s very own personalized valentine.

By the turn of the century, commercially printed cards began to be available. In the 1830s, Esther Howland, the daughter of a Massachusetts stationer, made a name for herself by selling mass-produced valentines. The popularity of valentines in this era is widely attributed to the development of an affordable nationwide postal system.

Jennys recommends sending flowers to your loved one on this special day, and red roses are the traditional flower.

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