The Origin of St. Valentines Day
February 14th marks a day many people around the world look forward to each and every year; the day we exchange gifts, chocolate and flowers with loved ones as a token for our affection for them. Though Valentines’ Day has been observed since the middle ages, some may be surprised to find that The Origin of St. Valentines Day actually remains a mystery.
It appears that despite the fact that the festivities of Valentine’s Day are observed in the name of St. Valentine, his exact identity remains unknown. There are at least three different saints by the name Valentine or Valentinus who are recognized by the Catholic Church. Each of these saints was martyred for an act of sympathy towards the most important emotion in the world, love.
One legend states that Valentine was a priest who served during the third century in Rome and defied a decree by Emperor Claudius II outlawing marriage for young men. The Emperor felt that unmarried men made better soldiers than men with families, and finding the decree unjust, the priest continued to marry young couples in secret until his actions were discovered and he was ordered to be put to death. Another story suggests that Valentine was killed for attempting to aid Christians in their escape from harsh Roman prisons, while yet another story tells of how an imprisoned Valentine sent the very first “Valentine” to his jailors daughter, whom he had fallen in love with during her visits to the jail during his confinement. Though the age old legends of St. Valentine portray him as heroic, sympathetic and romantic, his exact identity is likely to remain a mystery forever.
We do know that the first written Valentines’ did not appear until after 1400, and that Charles, Duke of Orleans penned the oldest known written Valentine, a poem to his wife, while imprisoned in the Tower of London in 1415. The poem now resides in the British Library in London England. The holiday began to be popularly celebrated throughout Great Britain In the early 1700’s, around the same time handmade Valentines probably began to appear in America. The first mass-manufactured Valentines’ appeared in America in the 1840’s when a woman named Esther A. Howland began selling elaborate versions of the Holiday gift there. Known as the “Mother of the Valentine”, Esther embellished her Valentines’ with real ribbons, lace and colorful images called “scrap”, which quickly became a popular way to express Valentines’ wishes in the US.
Today, Valentines’ Day is the second most popular card giving Holiday of the year. In addition to the US, it is also celebrated in France, Canada, Australia, the United Kingdom and Mexico. According to the Greeting Card Association, loved ones send around 1 billion cards to their Valentines’ each year. Despite the mystery surrounding St. Valentine, this holiday remains a testament to our devotion to the patron saints’ most beloved cause.