Wednesday, May 27, 2009


In the West, Valentine's Day, also called St. Valentine's Day is the traditional day on which lovers express their feelings to each other by sending Valentine's cards and giving flowers or candy but how did the practice of giving Valentine's Day gifts come about? This is the history of Valentine's Day dating back to 270 AD. The holiday itself is named after two of numerous early Christian martyrs named Valentine. Until 1969, the Catholic Church formally recognized eleven Valentine's Days but the the Valentines honored on February 14 are Valentine of Rome and Valentine of Terni.

Valentine of Rome was a priest who served during the reign of Emperor Claudius II. Legend has it that the emperor felt that single men made better soldiers so he declared it was unlawful for young men to get married. Valentine disagreed with the new law and considered it cruel so he continued to perform marriages for young lovers in secret.

According to this version of the legend, Valentine was arrested and interrogated by Roman Emperor Claudius II in person. Claudius was impressed by Valentine and attempted to get him to convert to Roman paganism in order to save his life but Valentine refused and tried to convert Claudius to Christianity instead. Because of this, he was executed on February 14, 270 AD.

On the evening before his execution, he wrote the first "valentine" himself, addressed to the jailer's young daughter, identified as his beloved, whom he had befriended and healed. The note read "From your Valentine." Valentine of Rome thus became a Patron Saint, and spiritual overseer of an annual festival. The festival involved young Romans offering women they admired, and wished to court, handwritten greetings of affection on February 14. The greeting cards acquired St.Valentine's name.

Valentine of Terni became bishop of Interamna about AD 197 and is said to have been killed during the persecution of Emperor Aurelian. One of the most intriguing stories of the history of Valentine's Day was the discovery of a sarcophagus which held the bodies of two young people, Sabino, a Roman soldier and Serapia, a girl from Terni. Legend has it that she was a Christian and he a pagan. The two were married by Saint Valentine in defiance of the Emperor of Aurelian.

This legend is the centerpiece of the tradition of Saint Valentine of Terni. It is a story of the triumph of love over cultural differences. Today, couples from all over the world travel to Terni every February 14 to take or renew their marriage vows.

Another legend involving the history of Valentine's Day claims that the Christian Church may have decided to celebrate Valentine's feast day in the middle of February in an effort to "christianize" celebrations of the pagan Lupercalia festival. In ancient Rome, February was the official beginning of spring and was considered a time for purification. Lupercalia was a fertility festival dedicated to Faunus, the Roman god of agriculture, and began at the ides of February - on the 15th. Lupercalia was also dedicated to the Roman founders, Romulus and Remus who were believed to have been cared for by a she-wolf or lupa.

The festival began with members of the Luperci, an order of Roman priests, gathering at the sacred cave of Romulus and Remus. The priests would then sacrifice a goat for fertility and a dog for purification. They would slice the hides into strips and dip them in the sacrificial blood. The priests would walk along a path marked with rocks where women would line up to be touched with the strips. Roman women welcomed the touch of the hides because they believed the strips would make them more fertile in the coming year and ease the pain of childbirth.

Later in the day, according to legend, young women would place their names in a big urn. The city's bachelors would then each choose a name from the urn and pair with their chosen woman for the next week. The young bachelors would wear the strip of paper with their chosen's name on their sleeve for that time hence the old saying, "He wears his heart on his sleeve." Some of the matches often resulted in marriage. Pope Gelasius declared February 14 to be St. Valentine's Day around 498 A.D. The Roman lottery system for romantic pairing was later deemed un-christian and was outlawed.

Valentine's Day became associated with romantic love in the circle of Geoffrey Chaucer, the most famous author of the Middle Ages, when the tradition of courtly love flourished. There were strict rules of courtly love and the art of courtly love was practised by the members of the courts across Europe during the Middle Ages. The rules of courtly love allowed knights and ladies to show their admiration regardless of their marital state. It was a common occurrence for a married lady to give a token to a knight of her choice to be worn during a Medieval tournament. There were rules which governed courtly love but sometimes the parties, who started their relationship with such elements of courtly love, would become deeply involved. A famous example of a relationship which was stirred by romantic courtly love and romance is described in the Legend of King Arthur, where his Queen, Guinevere fell in love with Sir Lancelot.

The earliest surviving valentine is a fifteenth-century rondeau written by Charles, Duke of Orleans to his "valentined" wife. At the time, the duke was being held in the Tower of London following his capture at the Battle of Agincourt in 1415.

In Great Britain, Valentine's Day began to be popularly celebrated around the seventeenth century. By the middle of the eighteenth century, it was common for friends and lovers to exchange small tokens of affection or handwritten notes as Valentine's Day Gifts.

In the United States, the first mass-produced Valentines of embossed paper lace were produced and sold shortly after 1847 by Esther Howland of Worcester, Massachusetts. Her father operated a large book and stationary store, but Esther took her inspiration from an English valentine that she had received. By the end of the century, due to printing technology improvements, printed cards began to replace written letters.

According to the Greeting Card Association, an estimated one billion Valentine's cards are sent each year, making Valentine's Day the second largest card-sending holiday of the year, second only to Christmas. It is approximated that 85% of all valentines cards are purchased by women.

In the second half of the twentieth century, the practice of exchanging cards was extended to all manner of gifts in the United States, usually from a man to a woman. Typical Valentine's Day gifts include roses and chocolates packed in a red satin, heart-shaped box. In the 1980s, the diamond industry began to promote Valentine's Day as an occasion for giving jewelry.

As you can see, a large portion of the history of Valentine's Day is based on romance between man and woman. That is still the case, lovers exchange gifts to show their feelings for each other but Valentine's Day has also evolved to include exchange of gifts between friends and family.