The History of Saint Valentine's Day



     February has long been a month of romance.  St. Valentine's Day, as we know it today, contains vestiges of both Christian and ancient Roman tradition.

     One legend contends that Valentine was a priest who served during the third century in Rome.  Emperor Claudius II decided that single men made better soldiers than those with wives and families.  He outlawed marriage for young men who were his crop of potential soldiers.  Valentine, realizing the injustice of the decree, defied Claudius and continued to perform marriages for young lovers in secret.  When Valentine's actions were discovered, Claudius ordered him put to death.

     According to one legend, Valentine actually sent the first 'valentine' greeting himself. While in prison, it is believed that Valentine fell in love with a young girl - - who may have been the jailor's daughter - - who visited him during his confinement.  Before his death, it is alleged

 that he wrote her a letter, which he signed 'From your Valentine,' an expression that is still in use today.  Although the truth behind the Valentine legends is murky, the stories certainly emphasize his appeal as a sympathetic, heroic, and most importantly, romantic figure.  It is no surprise that by the Middle Ages, Valentine was one of the most popular saints in England and France.

     While some believe that Valentine's Day is celebrated in the middle of February to commemorate the anniversary of Valentine's death or burial, others claim that the Christian church may have decided to celebrate Valentine's feast day in the middle of February in an effort to 'christianize' celebrations of the pagan Lupercalia festival.  In ancient Rome, February was the official beginning of spring and was considered a time for purification.  houses were ritually cleansed by sweeping them out and then sprinkling salt and a type of wheat called spelt throughout their interiors.  Lupercalia, which began as the Ides of February, February 15, was a fertility festival dedicated to Faunus, the Roman god of agriculture, as well as to the Roman founders Romulus and Remus.  On these occasions, amidst a variety of pagan ceremonies, the names of young women were placed in a box, from which they were drawn by the men as chance directed. 

     The pastors of the early Christian Church in Rome endeavored to do away with the pagan element in these feasts by substituting the names of saints for those of maidens.  And as the Lupercalia began about the middle of February, the pastors appear to have chosen Saint Valentine's Day for the celebration of this new feast.  So it seems that the custom of young men choosing maidens for valentines, or saints as patrons for the coming year, arose in this way.

     Another Valentine gentleman is Cupid (Latin cupido, "desire").   Cupid, the child-like, winged deity often associated with our modern Valentine's day, is the son of Venus, the Roman goddess of love.  In Greek mythology, Cupid is known as Aphrodite's son Eros.  Cupid is often said to be a mischievous boy who goes around wounding both gods and humans with his arrows, causing them to fall in love.

     Americans probably began exchanging hand-made valentines in the early 1700s.  In the 1840s, Esther A Howland began to sell the first mass-produced valentines in America.

     According to the Greeting Card Association, an estimated one billion valentine cards are sent each year, making Valentine's Day the second largest card-sending holiday of the year.  (An estimated 2.6 billion cards are sent for Christmas.)



Valentine Traditions

Hundreds of years ago in England, many children dressed up as adults on Valentine's Day.  They went singing from home to home.

In Wales wooden love spoons were carved and given as gifts on February 14th.  Hearts, keys and keyholes were favorite decorations on the spoons.  the decoration meant, "You unlock my heart!"


In the Middle Ages, young men and women drew names from a bowl to see who their valentines would be.  They would wear these names on their sleeves for one week.  To wear your heart on your sleeve no means that it is easy for other people to know how you are feeling.


In some countries, a young woman may receive a gift of clothing from a young man.  If she keeps the gift, it means she will marry him.


Some people used to believe that if a woman saw a robin flying overhead on Valentine's Day, it meant she would marry a sailor.  If she saw a sparrow, she would marry a poor man and be very happy.  If she saw a goldfinch, she would marry a millionaire.


Love seat is a wide chair.  It was first made to seat one woman and her wide dress.  Later, the love seat or courting seat had two sections, often in an S-shape.  In this way, a couple could sit together - - but not too closely!


Think of five or six names of boys or girls you might marry.  As you twist the stem of an apple, recite the names until the stem comes off.  You will marry the person whose name you were saying when the stem fell off.


If you cut an apple in half and count how many seeds are inside, you will also know how many children you will have.


Pick a dandelion that has gone to seed.  Take a deep breath and blow the seeds into the wind.  Count the seeds that remain on the stem.  That is the number of children you will have.


Take the Valentine Trivia Quiz!!


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