Every February 14, across the United States and in other places around the world, candy, flowers and gifts are exchanged between loved ones, all in the name of St. Valentine. But who is this mysterious saint, and where did
these traditions come from?

Find out about the history of this centuries-old holiday, from ancient Roman rituals to the customs of Victorian England.

The history of Valentine’s Day—-is shrouded in mystery. We do know that February has
long been celebrated as a month of romance, and that St. Valentine’s Day, as we know it today, contains vestiges of
both Christian and ancient Roman
tradition. But who was Saint Valentine, and how did he become associated with
this ancient rite?

The Catholic Church recognizes at least three different saints named Valentine or Valentinus, all of whom were martyred.
One legend contends that

Valentine was a
priest who served during the third
century in Rome. When Emperor Claudius II decided that single men made better soldiers than those with wives and families, he banned marriage for young
Valentine, realizing the injustice of the decree, defied Claudius and continued to perform marriages for young lovers in secret. When Valentine’s actions were discovered, Claudius ordered that he be put to death.

Other stories suggest that Valentine may have been killed for attempting to help
Christians escape harsh Roman prisons, where they were often beaten and tortured.
According to one legend, an
imprisoned Valentine actually sent the first “valentine” greeting himself after he fell in love with a young girl–possibly his jailor’s daughter–who visited him during
his confinement. Before his death, it is alleged that he wrote her a letter signed
“From your Valentine,”
an expression that
is still in use today. Although the truth behind the Valentine legends is murky,
the stories all emphasize his appeal as a sympathetic, heroic and–most importantly–romantic figure. By the Middle Ages , perhaps thanks to this reputation, Valentine would become one
of the most popular saints in England and France.

Origins of Valentine’s Day:
A Pagan Festival in February
While some believe that Valentine’s Day is celebrated in the middle of February to
commemorate the anniversary of
Valentine’s death or burial–which
probably occurred around A.D. 270–others claim that the Christian church may have decided to place St. Valentine’s
feast day in the middle of February in an effort to “Christianize” the pagan
celebration of Lupercalia. Celebrated at the ides of February, or February 15,
Lupercalia was a fertility festival
dedicated to Faunus, the Roman god of agriculture, as well as to the Roman founders Romulus and Remus. To begin the festival, members of the
Luperci, an order of Roman priests, would gather at a sacred cave where the infants
Romulus and Remus, the founders of Rome, were believed to have been cared
for by a she-wolf or lupa. The priests would sacrifice a goat, for fertility, and a dog, for purification. They would then
strip the goat’s hide into strips, dip them into the sacrificial blood and take to the
streets, gently slapping both women and crop fields with the goat hide. Far from
being fearful, Roman women welcomed the touch of the hides because it was believed to make them more fertile in
the coming year. Later in the day,
according to legend, all the young women
in the city would place their names in a
big urn. The city’s bachelors would each
choose a name and become paired for the year with his chosen woman. These
matches often ended in marriage.

Valentine’s Day:
A Day of Romance Lupercalia survived the initial rise of
Christianity and but was outlawed—as it was deemed “un-Christian”–at the end of
the 5th century, when Pope Gelasius declared February 14 St. Valentine’s Day.
It was not until much later, however, that the day became definitively associated
with love. During the Middle Ages, it was commonly believed in France and England that February 14 was the beginning of
birds’ mating season, which added to the idea that the middle of Valentine’s Day
should be a day for romance.
Valentine greetings were popular as far back as the Middle Ages, though written
Valentine’s didn’t begin to appear until after 1400. The oldest known valentine
still in existence today was a poem written in 1415 by Charles, Duke of Orleans, to his wife while he was imprisoned in the Tower of London following his capture at the Battle of Agincourt. (The greeting is now part of the manuscript collection of the British Library in London, England.) Several years
later, it is believed that King Henry V
hired a writer named John Lydgate to
compose a valentine note to Catherine of Valois.

Typical Valentine’s Day Greetings
In addition to the United States ,
Valentine’s Day is celebrated in Canada,
Mexico, the United Kingdom, France and
Australia. In Great Britain, Valentine’s Day
began to be popularly celebrated around
the 17th century. By the middle of the
18th, it was common for friends and
lovers of all social classes to exchange
small tokens of affection or handwritten
notes, and by 1900 printed cards began
to replace written letters due to
improvements in printing technology.
Ready-made cards were an easy way for
people to express their emotions in a
time when direct expression of one’s
feelings was discouraged. Cheaper
postage rates also contributed to an
increase in the popularity of sending
Valentine’s Day greetings.
Americans probably began exchanging
hand-made valentines in the early 1700s.
In the 1840s, Esther A. Howland began
selling the first mass-produced valentines
in America. Howland, known as the
“Mother of the Valentine,” made
elaborate creations with real lace, ribbons
and colorful pictures known as “scrap.”
Today, according to the Greeting Card
Association, an estimated 1 billion
Valentine’s Day cards are sent each year,
making Valentine’s Day the second largest
card-sending holiday of the year. (An
estimated 2.6 billion cards are sent for
Christmas.) Women purchase
approximately 85 percent of all



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