Every year a number of holidays come and go where I always stop and wonder for a few moments during that day how each of them originated. But most of the time I have never done any research into it and the day passes by as quick as it arrived. This year though, I decided to do a little digging on the origins of Valentines Day.
What I immediately found most interesting about this holiday, which is best known these days for giving Hallmark greeting cards, red roses, and chocolates to a loved one, is what transpired around this same time back in ancient Rome. In that time period, Lupercalia was observed February 13-15, and was a Pagan festival connected to fertility. It involved sacrificing a goat, where it’s hide would be turned into strips that were dipped into its sacrificial blood. Each were then gently slapped on both women and crop fields during the festival because it was believed it would make them more fertile in the coming year.
This festival survived through the initial rise of Christianity, but was eventually outlawed and deemed “un-Christian” by the end of the 5th century. At that time, it was Pope Gelasius who declared February 14th to then be St. Valentine’s Day instead. He stated it would be a day to remember several Christian saints who were named Valentinus. Each had legends surrounding them of martyrdom. In one of them, it was said that a priest named Valentine was imprisoned for performing marriages to Christian soldiers that had been prohibited from tying the knot. During his imprisonment, it was also said that Valentine fell in love with a young girl who visited him and that he would send her love letters that ended with “From Your Valentine.” This is how his name began to be associated to romance.
By the middle ages, Valentine had become one of the most popular saints in England and France. The oldest known “Valentine greeting” that’s still in existence, dates back to this day in 1415. It was then when Charles, Duke of Orleans, wrote a poem of love to his wife while he was imprisoned in the Tower of London following his capture at the Battle of Agincourt. As the centuries passed, more of those types of “paper valentines” began to be sent to various loved ones on that day. And by the middle of the 18th century, it had become common for people of all social classes to exchange small tokens of affection or handwritten notes of love on this holiday. By the time the 1900’s arrived, the hand-written Valentines were already beginning to be replaced by the printed ones. This was partially due to the fact that direct expression of one’s feelings was being discouraged back then and postage rates were also becoming cheaper.
Today, many refer to this day as a Hallmark holiday because of the amount of those printed valentine cards that are bought and exchanged. Currently over 150 million of them are purchased specifically for this holiday, but when all types of Valentine’s Day cards are factored in, it is said that more than 1 billion are being sent each year. And as we all know, red roses, jewelry, chocolate, teddy bears, and various other gifts have become just as popular to exchange for this holiday now too.
What I find most fascinating though after doing all this research on the history of Valentine’s Day, is that I still stand by what I said last year when I wrote my first ever entry about it. February 14th is only one day of the year that love can be offered. But there are 364 other days that God gives us all the opportunity to show it as well. Showing our love for someone else, whether romantic based or not, really should be taking place on every day, of every week, of each and every year.
While St. Valentine may receive the credit today for how this holiday began, and while today also covers up a Pagan festival once celebrated long ago at this time, just know that showing love is a lot more than what February 14th has become like these days. So no matter what you choose to give to a loved one today, it’s my hope you will continue to do the same every other day of the year too.
May all of you have a Happy Valentine’s Day today…
Peace, love, light, and joy,
Andrew Arthur Dawson