History of Valentine's Day
February fertility festivals
The association of the middle of February with love and fertility dates to ancient times. In the calendar of Ancient Athens, the period between mid January and mid February was the month of Gamelion, which was dedicated to the sacred marriage of Zeus and Hera.
In Ancient Rome, the day of February 15 was Lupercalia, the festival of Lupercus, the god of fertility, who was represented as half-naked and dressed in goat skins. As part of the purification ritual, the priests of Lupercus would sacrifice goats to the god, and after drinking wine, they would run through the streets of Rome holding pieces of the goat skin above their heads, touching anyone they met. Young women especially would come forth voluntarily for the occasion, in the belief that being so touched would render them fruitful and bring easy childbirth.
According to the Catholic Encyclopedia (1908), at least three different Saints Valentine, all of them martyrs and all quite obscure, are mentioned in the early martyrologies under the date of February 14:
- a priest in Rome who suffered martyrdom in the second half of the 3rd century and was buried on the Via Flaminia;
- a bishop of Interamna (modern Terni) also suffered martyrdom in the second half of the 3rd century and was also buried on the Via Flaminia, but in a different location than the priest;
- a martyr in North Africa, about whom little else is known.
The connection between St. Valentine and romantic love is not mentioned in any early histories and is regarded by secular historians as purely a matter of legend (see below). The feast of St. Valentine was first declared to be on February 14 by Pope Gelasius I in 496. There is a widespread legend that he created the day to counter the practice held on Lupercalia of young men and women pairing off as lovers by drawing their names out of an urn, but this practice is not attested in any sources from that era.
In the 19th century, relics of St. Valentine were donated by Pope Gregory XVI to the Whitefriar Street Carmelite Church in Dublin, Ireland, which has become a popular place of pilgrimage on February 14.
In 1969, as part of a larger effort to pare down the number of saint days of purely legendary origin, the Church removed St. Valentine's Day as an official holiday from its calendar.
The influential Gnostic teacher Valentinius was a candidate for Bishop of Rome in 143. In his teachings, the marriage bed assumed a central place in his version of Christian love, an emphasis sharply in contrast with the asceticism of mainstream Christianity. Stephan A. Hoeller assesses Valentinius on the subject: "In addition to baptism, anointing, eucharist, the initiation of priests and the rites of the dying, the Valentinian Gnosis mentions prominently two great and mysterious sacraments called "redemption" (apolytrosis) and "bridal chamber" respectively".
Swedish calendar showing St Valentine's Day 14 February 1712. The first recorded association of St. Valentine's Day with romantic love was in the 14th century in England and France, where February 14 was traditionally the day on which birds paired off to mate. This belief is mentioned in Geoffrey Chaucer's Parlement of Foules (1381).
It was common during that era for lovers to exchange notes on this day and to call each other their "Valentines". A 14th century valentine is said to be in the collection of the British Library. It is probable that many of the legends about St. Valentine were invented during this period. Among the legends are ones that assert that:
On the evening before St. Valentine was to be martyred for being a Christian, he passed a love note to his jailer's daughter which read, "From Your Valentine."
During a ban on marriages of Roman soldiers by the Emperor Claudius II, St. Valentine secretly helped arrange marriages.
In most versions of these legends, February 14 is the date associated with his martyrdom.
Valentine's Day in the USA
Valentine's Day was probably imported into North America in the 19th century with settlers from Britain. In the United States, the first mass-produced valentines of embossed paper lace were produced and sold shortly after 1847 by Esther Howland (1828 – 1904) of Worcester, Massachusetts. Her father operated a large book and stationery store, and she took her inspiration from an English valentine she had received. (Since 2001, the Greeting Card Association has been giving an annual "Esther Howland Award for a Greeting Card Visionary".)
In the United States in the second half of the 20th century, the practice of exchanging cards was extended to include the giving of all manner of gifts, usually from a man to a woman. Such gifts typically include roses and chocolates. Starting in the 1980s, the diamond industry began to promote Valentine's Day as an occasion for giving fine jewelry.
In 1929 due to tensions between gangs in Chicago, members of a gang led by Al Capone killed several members of Bugs Moran's gang in what became known as the Saint Valentine's Day Massacre.
The day has come to be associated with a generic platonic greeting of "Happy Valentine's Day."
Those without a significant other often speak with sarcasm by referring to Valentine's Day as "Singles' Awareness Day".