When I travel I love researching the legends and stories of my destinations. Part of that is a curiosity about the origin of rituals, holidays, and traditions…in this case, Saint Valentine’s Day.
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No Flowers or Chocolates for This Saint!
Roses are Red, Violets are Blue…I’m Glad I’m No Saint, Aren’t YOU?
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Typically St. Valentine’s Day conjures up images of romantic, lovey-dovey stuff like hearts and flowers, boxes of chocolates, mushy greeting cards, and the like… Well, this wasn’t exactly the case for this holiday’s namesake, Saint Valentine – in fact, there was no romance for this saint! Furthermore, there are actually three potential Valentines that the day commemorates and in all three cases, they were martyred i.e., imprisoned, tortured, and executed. Yikes, not my idea of romantic or happy ending!
We can agree that Saint Valentine’s Day (also known as Valentine’s Day or the Feast of Saint Valentine) is observed on February 14th of each year. So, how did our version of Saint Valentine become the Hallmark version characterized by cupid, declarations of love, romantic evenings, and hearts and flowers? Well, it depends on who you read and who you believe since, as with any good story, it gets embellished a bit over the centuries and, as in this case, can take on legendary (i.e. exaggerated) proportions. But, it all makes for a good story, so….
I’ll let you pick your favorite version of the martyred saint, but it seems that Valentine or Valentius of Rome was an extremely sympathetic priest who defied the Roman Empire by performing weddings for soldiers (prohibited to marry at the time) and ministering to persecuted Christians. For this, he was persecuted and imprisoned. According to the legend, it was during his incarceration that he performed a miracle, healing the blind daughter of his jailer. Before his execution he wrote a farewell letter to her and signed it “Your Valentine”. Hence (perhaps?) the first Valentine. (I told you it made a good story!)
Since it was very common for the Christian church to adopt pagan festivals, it’s believed that they adopted the Roman fertility festival, Lupercalia, dedicated to Faunus, the Roman God of agriculture as well as to Romulus and Remus, founders of Rome. They conveniently decided to have St. Valentine’s feast day (celebrating Valentine’s death or burial anniversary) around the same date.
Regardless of what is truth or legend about St. Valentine, it wasn’t until the Middle Ages that courtly love became fashionable and the day took on romantic notions among the likes of Chaucer and his circle. Also, during the Middle Ages, it was commonly believed in France and England that February 14 was the beginning of birds’ mating season, which added to the idea that the middle of Valentine’s Day should be a day for romance (and possibly this is where the notion of love birds made their debut?)
Whatever the case, hearts, cupid, doves, and other expressions of love such as flowers and candy, along with hand-made cards known as “valentines”, were not exchanged until the early 1700’s. The first mass-produced valentines were created and sold by Esther Howland, “Mother of the Valentine”, in 1840.
Needless to say, Valentine’s Day has flourished ever since. Commercial greeting cards have largely taken the place of lace, ribbons, and fancy valentines. It’s estimated that approximately 1 billion Valentine’s Day cards are sent each year and that 85% of them are purchased by women. I wonder what St. Valentine would think of that?
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Send Me Flowers…Oh, I Mean Chocolates…Oh, OK, Send Me a Postcard!
Just Comment Below!
Did you know the origin of Saint Valentine’s Day? How do you celebrate?