History of the Hallmark Holiday
Flowers, candy and Hallmark are the staples of any romantic Valentine's Day. Couples love it and singles hate it, but the origin of the holiday has nothing to do with gifts or chocolate.
There are three legends about the Catholic saint Valentine, all of which portray him as a martyr. Some evidence suggests that Valentine was killed for helping Roman prisoners escape the inhumane conditions of jailhouses in the third century.
Another source claims that he was a priest during the rule of Emperor Claudius II, who famously banned young Roman men from marrying. He reasoned that unwed men made better soldiers because they did not have wives or children to worry about. As a priest, Valentine supposedly performed secret marriage ceremonies for desperate lovers and was killed for breaking the law.
The last legend adheres most closely to modern Valentine's Day traditions. Just as elementary school children exchange Valentines bearing images of Finding Nemo and The Little Mermaid, Saint Valentine may have sent his own romantic cards to a young woman while imprisoned. His final letter before dying is rumored to be signed "From your Valentine," the popular sign-off for Valentine's cards today.
Why Valentine's Day is celebrated on February 14 is unclear. Some believe it is in remembrance of the saint's death, while others ponder the role of a pagan ritual. On February 15, a fertility festival known as Lupercalia was held in ancient Rome. Valentine's Day may occur the day before Lupercalia in an effort to "Christianize" the pagan ritual.
During the festival, a dog and a goat were sacrificed for purification and fertility. The goat's hide was drenched in blood and placed on women's skin, as it was thought that it would increase their fertility. Then all the single women in Rome placed their name in an urn situated in the center of the city. Eligible bachelors randomly chose a name, and the selected women became their Valentines for the remainder of the year.
This method of matchmaking often, but not always, resulted in marriage, and for this reason Christians disapproved of the festival. Eventually, this practice was banned.
In England and France, February marks the start of the bird mating season, which encouraged the celebration of love during the middle of the month. Valentine's Day truly gained popularity in the 1600s, but Charles, the Duke of Orleans, wrote the oldest Valentine's Day card on record in 1415.
Valentine's notes were originally hand-printed letters. After advancements were made in printing techniques, however, the cards were produced in bulk, and the United States began to mass-produce Valentine's Day cards beginning in the 1840s.
During the early nineteenth century in Great Britain, expressing emotion was highly discouraged, so pre-made cards allowed lovers to communicate their feelings in a socially acceptable manner.
Across the United States, more than one billion cards are sold annually to commemorate this sentimental holiday. Although the day is typically associated with two lovers, people have been giving Valentine's cards and gifts to close friends for centuries.
Valentine's Day is the perfect way to indulge in a nice dinner and a box of chocolates, regardless of your relationship status. Rather than dwelling on singlehood, meet new people this weekend--who knows, your Valentine may be right here on campus.