The History of St. Valentine's Day
The History of St. Valentine's Day
The History of 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.

Valentine Stories

The Church Holiday History

According to the Catholic Encyclopedia (1908), at least three different Saints Valentine, all of them martyrs, are mentioned in the early martyrologies under the date of February 14th:

  • 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 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 around 498. 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.

Compare the influential Gnostic teacher Valentinius who was a candidate for Bishop of Rome in 143.

History of Valentine's Day in non-western countries

In Japan, Valentine's Day has emerged, thanks to a concentrated marketing effort, as a day on which women give chocolates to men they like. Rather than being voluntary however, this has become for many women – especially those who work in offices – an obligation, and they give chocolates to all their male co-workers, sometimes at significant personal expense. This chocolate is known as giri-choco (?????), from the words giri (obligation) and choco, a common short version of chokoreeto (??????), meaning chocolate.

By a further marketing effort, a reciprocal day, called White Day has emerged. On this day (March 14), men are supposed to return the favour by giving something to those who gave them chocolates on Valentine's Day. Many men, however, give only to their girlfriends. The return gift should be white (hence the name), and is often lingerie.

Medieval Era History

The first recorded association of St. Valentine's Day with romantic love was in the 14th century in England and France, where it was believed that February 14 was the day on which birds paired off to mate. This belief is mentioned in the writings of Geoffrey Chaucer in the 14th century, who wrote in the Parlement of Foules that

For this was sent on Seynt Valentyne's day
Whan every foul cometh ther to choose his mate

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.

History of Modern Valentine's Day
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 A. 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".)

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