NEWBERRY — Did you know that approximately one billion Valentine’s Day cards are sent each year? That would make Valentine’s Day the second most popular card-sending holiday after Christmas.
The actual history of Valentine’s Day, as well as the story of its patron saint, is a mystery, according to the History Channel.
The Catholic church recognizes at least three different saints named Valentine or Valentinus, and all are martyred. According to the History Channel, one legend suggests Valentine was a priest who served during the third century in Rome.
When Emperor Claudius II suggested that single men made better soldiers than those with wives and families, he outlawed marriage for young men. Valentine defied Claudius, feeling the decree was an injustice, and continued to perform marriages for young lovers in secret. When this was discovered, Claudius ordered Valentine be put to death.
Other stories shared by the History Channel suggested that Saint Valentine could have been killed for attempting to help Christians escape harsh Roman prisons, where they were often beaten and tortured. According to one legend mentioned, an imprisoned Valentine may have actually sent the first “valentine” greeting after falling in love with a young girl, who could have possibly been his jailer’s daughter, who visited him while he was in confinement.
Before he died, it is rumored that he wrote her a letter signed “From your Valentine,” an expression that is still used to this day. Possibly due to his reputation, Valentine had become one of the most popular saints in England and France by the Middle Ages.
When is Valentine’s Day?
Most believe Valentine’s Day is celebrated in mid-February, because of the anniversary of Valentine’s death or burial – which probably occurred around A.D. 270. According to the History Channel, others claim that the Christian church might have decided to place St. Valentine’s feast day in the middle of February in an effort to “Christianize” the pagan celebration of Lupercalia.
Lupercalia was actually a fertility festival celebrated on Feb. 15 that was dedicated to Faunus, the Roman god of agriculture, as well as to the Roman founders Romulus and Remus. Beginning the festival, the members of Luperci, which was 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.
In the cave, goats were sacrificed for fertility and dogs for purification. The goats’ hides were stripped and then the women present were made to touch the hides, believing it would make them more fertile in the coming year.
Later that day, the women placed their names into a large urn. The city’s bachelors would then choose a name and become paired for the year with his chosen woman. These matches often ended in marriage.
Day for romance?
Lupercalia was outlawed at the end of the fifth century, as Pope Gelasius declared Feb. 14 St. Valentine’s Day. It was much later, however, before the day actually became associated with love. It was France and England during the Middle Ages that believed that Feb. 14 was the beginning of birds’ mating season, which added that the day should be filled with romance.
According to the History Channel, although valentine’s greetings could have gone back as far as the Middle Ages, written valentines 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 after his capture at the Battle of Agincourt. It can be found as a part of the manuscript collection of the British Library in London, England.
In addition to the United States, Valentine’s Day is celebrated in Canada, Mexico, the United Kingdom, France and Australia. Valentine’s Day in Great Britain became popularly celebrated in the 17th century.
By the middle of the 18th century, it was common for friends and lovers of all social classes to exchange small tokens of affection or handwritten notes. Due to improvements in printing technology by 1900, printed cards began to replace written letters.
It is thought that Americans probably began exchanging handmade valentines in the early 1700s. According to the Greeting Card Association, an estimated one billion Valentine’s Day cards are sent each year, falling just behind the estimated 2.6 billion cards that are sent for Christmas. Women buy approximately 85 percent of all valentines.