Valentines Day History
Valentine’s Day has become quite the tradition in the United States. Big companies like Hallmark and Hershey’s have transformed the holiday into a consumer-driven expression of love. But where did it originate? Who is Saint Valentine? In fact, Valentine’s Day has transformed with history and you might be surprised to find that Valentine’s Day started off quite differently than it turned out to be today.
Saint Valentine and Lupercalia in Ancient Rome
Lupercalia was a pagan holiday that originated as a feast to celebrate the fertility of the oncoming spring when, according to myth, birds began mating. Lupercalia dates back to ancient Rome. It is said that during Lupercalia February 14, boys would place the names of young maidens in a box. The gentlemen would then draw the names from the box and the woman that they chose would be their partner for the festival.
When Claudius II became Emperor of Rome, his bloody reign completely changed the society of Rome. Deemed Claudius the Cruel, he had some problems enlisting men in the army. Claudius II actually banned marriage and engagements from Rome in order to get men to enlist in the army.
As a result of this, Saint Valentine provided refuge for the martyrs and married couples in secret. Naturally, he was caught and Saint Valentine was to be dragged through the streets of Rome and beaten to death with clubs. It is said that Saint Valentine fell in love with the jailer’s daughter while he was waiting his sentence. On the day of his execution, February 14, he wrote a letter to the jailer’s daughter signing it "From Your Valentine." Saint Valentine became the Patron Saint of Lovers from that day forward.
Chaucer’s Parlement of Foules in England
When Valentine’s Day was banned in Rome following 500 AD, it did not get revived until the 1300s with Chaucer’s Love Birds. It was the first recorded celebration of Valentine’s Day.
Geoffrey Chaucer wrote a story of romantic love in Parlement of Foules in 1382. It was meant to honor the engagement of King Richard II of England and Anne of Bohemia. He writes, "For this was Saint Valentine’s Day, when every bird cometh there to choose his mate." Chaucer’s story might have been referring to May when the birds mated in England, but critics generally agree that he is referring to Valentine’s Day as Lupercalia from ancient Rome.
Valentine’s Day Through Medieval and Renaissance Europe
Valentine’s Day was mentioned many times throughout European literature in the Medieval and Renaissance time periods. In 1400 Paris, France, a "High Court of Love" was established on Valentine’s Day. This court pertained to love contracts, adultery, and other relationship topics. Judges were even selected by women through a poetry reading. The Duke of Orleans even wrote to his wife from the Tower of London on Valentine’s Day.
Shakespeare mentions Valentine’s Day in Hamlet. Ophelia accounts Valentine’s Day in anger. John Donne mentions Valentine’s Day in Epithalamion.
Modern Valentine’s Day
Valentine’s Day cards began being manufactured in the 1800s and the first manufactured valentine in America was printed by Esther Howland in Massachusetts. In the 20th century, Valentine’s Day turned into "Singles Awareness Day" as single people started resenting the idea of couples on Valentine’s Day. Roughly 190 million valentines are printed yearly now and it has turned into a tradition where children pass them out in classes and people give them to co-workers.
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