By Adrienne Conley | Staff Writer
As recently as three days ago, stores everywhere were overtaken by chocolates, giant teddy bears, and roses that cost roughly twice as much as they did this time last month. The reason behind this madness? February’s favorite holiday: Valentine’s Day! How does the celebration of a Christian martyr’s feast day, which replaced a pagan festival, have anything to do with this? Now that the madness has ended and we are no longer haunted by chocolates and kissing cartoon figures, let’s take a look at the real reason behind February 14th.
Every year in mid-February, ancient Romans celebrated Lupercalia, a pagan festival that was meant to drive away evil spirits and celebrate fertility. To counter this pagan festival, in the late 400s Pope Gelasius declared Saint Valentine the patron of love, young people, and happy marriages and made his feast day February 14th. Other than his martyrdom, not much was known about Saint Valentine’s life. However, many legends abound, including that he married Christian couples in secret; married couples so that men wouldn’t have to go to war; and healed a jailer’s daughter of blindness and left her a note that said “Your Valentine” right before he left to be beheaded.
In the middle ages his feast day became widely celebrated in Europe and the earliest known Valentine was a poem sent by Charles, Duke of Orleans, to his wife in 1415. In the 1700s it became common for loved ones to send each other notes or small gifts to show their affection. Around 1840 the first mass-produced Valentines were sold in the U.S. by American business woman Esther A. Howland. These early Valentines were hand painted and sometimes made with lace and ribbons. Today Valentine’s Day is the second most popular card-sending holiday behind Christmas.
From pagans to stuffed puppies, Valentine’s Day has a history as colorful as the candy hearts made to commemorate the day.
Saint Valentine pray for us!
Cover Photo: By John Hritz from Ann Arbor, MI, USA – Flickr, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=348696