The History of Saint Valentine's Day
By: Tippy & Alfred
Originally, up until the 1500's, the word Valentine was
applied to the person whose name was picked from a box to be
chosen to be treated as your sweetheart. Beginning around
1533, it began to mean the folded piece of paper with the
sweetheart's name on it. By 1610 it then became the gift
given to this special someone and by 1824 it was applied to
a poem, letter or verse to a sweetheart.
Although Valentine's Day is celebrated on February 14 every
year, it originates from the Roman celebration called
Lupercalia, which was held on February 15, a fertility
Roman culture spread across the known world, but often the
Romans themselves also invaded and spread their ways
personally. When the Romans invaded France, they celebrated
a Roman festival in which boys drew names of girls out of an
urn (to determine their partners) and then the couple
exchanged gifts on the festival's day. This was considered a
pagan celebration, so in 469 C.E., Pope Gelasius decided to
put a Christian spin on this celebration by declaring that
it was now to honor St. Valentine (A young Roman who was
martyred by Emperor Claudius II and who was said to have
died on February 14, 270 C.E. for refusing to give up
Why was Valentine killed?
Rumor has it that St. Valentine was a priest who defied the
emperor's ban on marriages by marrying young people in
secret. He was discovered, and put to death.
Why was marriage banned?
According to legend, in the 3rd century after Christ the
Emperor Claudius II did not want his soldiers to fall in
love and marry because he felt women and families distracted
the soldier's from their duty to him, and in some cases made
the men not want to go to war at all. He needed more
soldiers so he declared marriage illegal. Anyone performing
this ceremony was to be killed.
Another story goes like this...A man named Valentine was in
prison for helping persecuted Christians. There he witnessed
to his jailor and ended up converting the jailor and his
entire family to Christianity. The jailor also had a blind
daughter, Julia, with whom Valentine fell in love (as well
as restoring her sight by a miracle). But love did not
prevail. :( On the morning of Valentine's execution, he sent
a message to the daughter signed, "From your Valentine."
Italy also had another spring festival during the Middle
Ages (un-named) in which young singles gathered in the
gardens to listen to love poetry and romantic music.
Afterward they paired off and strolled through the trees and
flowers. In France this pairing-off custom went on for a
while, but it ended up causing a lot of jealousies and
became more trouble than it was worth and was dropped.
But the English had adopted the custom for their own, and
the custom of young men drawing names for "Valentines" or
sweethearts remained when the Romans left. The young men in
England would write down all the names of the young women on
pieces of paper and then roll them up tightly and put them
in a bowl. The young men (blindfolded) would take turns
drawn a name from the bowl. The girl whose name he drew
would be his "valentine" for the next year. (Some cheating
probably went on here.)
Another variation on this festival goes like this: Two Roman
youths, after being blessed by their priest, would run
through the streets swinging a goatskin thong called a
februa. The Latin word is Februatio, (the act of lashing
with sacred thongs) and was believed to be for purification.
From this word comes our word "February". And the belief is
that if a woman was touched by this thong, she would be able
to bear children more easily. (Thus again, we go back to a
connection to fertility?) According to the legend, they did
this to honor their God Faunus, the god of crops and
fertility. (Faunus was similar to the Greek God, Pan.)
February might not be considered Spring for many of us
today, especially in certain areas of the world where there
is still snow on the ground, but for the Romans Lupercalia
on the 14 and the Valentine's Day on the 15th were blended
into one day (celebrated on the 14th because the young men
and women couldn't wait another day to get together?) and
occurred 7 weeks after the Winter Solstice, marking the
progression from Winter into Spring. In the Middle Ages it
was commonly believed that birds chose their mates on
February 14, so February 14th has long been considered the
official mating day of Spring.
Another theory about Valentine's Day comes from the Norse.
The Normans had a St. Galantin, which meant "lover of
women." In Norse the "G" is not pronounced like a "Gah" in
English, but like a "V." So the word Galantin is pronounced
like "Valantin." And so they believe that their St.
Galantin's Day is a part of St. Valentine's Day today. The
French want to say that the word Valentine comes from their
word "galantine" which means a lover or gallant.
The Roman Catholic Church did their best to try to ban this
pagan fertility/mating festival. However, it remained
popular in the hearts of the people and so the church
finally decided that it was hopeless to try to get rid of
it. Thus they redefined it as a Christian Saint Day of St.
Valentine as mentioned above. And so, in 1660 Charles II
officially restored Valentine's Day as a British holiday.
Due to this Great Britain is the country that receives the
credit for starting the printing of greeting cards,
especially those expressing infatuation, love, or
St. Valentine's Day did not come to America until 1629 with
the Puritans, and even here it went against some of the
church elders. But the church could not hold back love and
passion even in the New World. About 100 years passed before
the first Valentine's Day cards appeared in the United
Valentine once meant "sweetheart" but it grew to represent
"message of love." Margery Brews of England wrote the oldest
known valentine in letter form, dated 1477, and sent to John
On 2-14-1667, Samuel Pepys in his diary described a kind of
valentine that he got from his wife. It was a sheet of blue
paper on which her name was written in gold letters. This
became the forerunner of later valentines. But the custom
didn't grow quickly, it took 100 years before it was common
to leave a valentine love letter at the doorstep of your
As I said above, although the Catholic church was not
thrilled with Valentines per se, the custom slowly began to
grow also in Catholic countries. Surprisingly, the
Valentines there were often made by the nuns, appearing
extremely lacy and decorated with hand-painted flowers. In
the center of these valentines was not Cupid, but often a
saint or a religious-styled sacred heart.
Germany is credited with providing the expensive paper and
elaborate borders found on Valentines in the 18th century.
But these were not as often on Valentines, but more often on
New Year's Day or on a person's birthday. The fancy German
paper was later imported to England and they used it for
Valentines. But the German paper was expensive and soon the
English began to make it for themselves.
Valentines did not always appear as hearts as we know them
today. Most were known as "paper pockets" and were more like
envelopes and folded over. And mailing was expensive too. A
valentine was often folded and sealed with wax, and
presented by hand.
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