The history behind Valentine’s Day is interesting, dark, but also quite muddled. While some believe it was a made-up holiday created by Hallmark, it was actually celebrated long before then, but Hallmark took the opportunity and they definitely flourished because of it. So, who is St. Valentine, and what do the Romans, Shakespeare, and Chaucer have to do with it?
St. Valentine – The Man Behind the Name
There are many legends of Saint Valentine across Europe in the Czech Republic, Ireland, Scotland, England, and France who all claim to have his remains. Catholics believe that February 14 remembers the martyrdom of Saint Valentine, who had been a Roman priest beheaded during the third century. The only problem is no one can truly remember why he was executed.
There are many theories associated with his martyrdom, and these are just three of them:
- He was a bishop in Terri, Italy who healed the sick, including a blind daughter of a prison guard he met while in jail for practicing Christianity in a pagan world.
- He tried to convert Emperor Claudius to Christianity.
- He was caught performing weddings while there was a ban due to a military recruitment crunch. The ban was created by the Emperor.
The Dark Times of Lupercalia
Lupercalia is an old, pre-Roman festival that celebrates fertility and purification. The details are slightly gorey and distasteful, so we’ll leave it at that. The Romans would celebrate this festival from February 13th through the 15th. Later, a pope combined it with the Christian Valentine’s Day, and it became a sort of theatrical reenactment of the original festivities, but still celebrated fertility and love.
The Norman’s had a similar holiday known as Galatin’s Day, which meant “lover of women”. Since they sound similar, rituals and practices could have been combined with one another to produce something like what we celebrate today.
Romanticizing Valentine’s Day
It wasn’t until Chaucer and Shakespeare started romanticizing Valentine’s Day in their work that it gained popularity through Britain and Europe. During this time, writing handmade cards was the token-du-jour in the Middle Ages, so adding another holiday to write love cards was a great idea.
It made its way to the New World just like many other holidays, and eventually the industrial revolution helped produce factory made cards.
In 1913, Hallmark Cards of Kansas City, Missouri produced valentines, and it was the greatest idea they probably ever had. Since then, they make millions of dollars every year on Valentine’s Day cards alone.
As far as spending overall, consumers spend more than $18 billion on Valentine’s Day, an average of over $135 per person, so about $200-$300 per couple.
While some enjoy it and some say they don’t, we all love getting surprises and gifts just because. We should be celebrating those we love on the daily, but sometimes life gets hectic and a holiday forces us to just do a little extra. Regardless, I’m sure we enjoy this tradition rather than the Lupercalia. If you’re interested in that festival, you can read about it here.