St Valentine’s Day – Where did it all begin?
A history of Valentine’s Day
This February 14 we’ll once again be showering those we love with chocolates, flowers, gifts – and of course a Valentine’s Day card. According to the Greeting Card Association we send an incredible billion Valentine’s Day each year making it the most card-heavy occasion after Christmas. To mark this popular event this year we set out to discover where the tradition originated.
Valentine’s Day has its origins in ancient Rome
Valentine’s Day appears to date back as far as Roman times when celebrations took place on the 12, 13 and 15 February. Termed Luprcalia this took the form of a wild pagan festival whereby eligible young females waited in line to be slapped with animal skins to increase their fertility.
There have also been a couple of Christian martyrs with the name Valentine. One was Valentine of Rome who, in the third century AD was arrested on the orders of Emperor Claudius for giving aid to prisoners. According to popular myth while in jail he fell in love with the jailor’s daughter, sending her a note ‘from your Valentine’.
However, in another version of the story Claudius is said to have banned young men from marrying to make them better soldiers – Valentine is believed to have flouted the rules by carrying out weddings. He died on 14 February for his commitment to joining young lovers in matrimony – which then became known as Valentine’s Day.
Valentine Day – Christianity’s version
Moving on to around AD 496 Pope Gelasius declared St Valentine’s Day to be a Christian feast day which was probably invented to take over from the previous Roman pagan festival day. All pagan festivals had been banned by this time so this was essentially a compromise to enable people to continue to enjoy a wild get together at this time of year.
Valentine’s day becomes a symbol of romantic love
Mid- February was considered to be the time in the year when birds started seeking out a mate. This was described by Geoffrey Chaucer who in the 14th century talked of a ‘Parlement of Foules’ (Parliament of Fowls) He wrote “For this was on St Valentine’s Day when every fowl cometh here to choose his mate”. Chaucer wrote these words in reference to Richard II’s engagement to Anne of Bohemia.
In 1400 the French made St Valentine’s Day the day they opened a “High Court of Love” intended to deal with all matters of the heart – from marriage contracts to divorces and infidelity. Charles, Duke of Orleans (it had to be a Frenchman!) wrote the first officially recorded Valentine’s note to his wife whilst imprisoned in the Tower of London (having been captured at the Battle of Agincourt in 1415).
The greeting can still be seen today, as it is included in the manuscript collection in the British Library.
Valentine’s Day part of the national consciousness
Fast forward two hundred years and we find that Valentine’s Day has become part of the national consciousness. Even William Shakespeare mentions it in Hamlet when Ophelia proclaims “Tomorrow is Saint Valentine’s Day/All the morning betime/And I a maid at your window to be your Valentine”.
In the mid-18th century love notes become popular as forerunners to the Valentine’s Day cards we see today, early ones made of paper and lace. The Young Man’s Valentine Writer was published at the end of the century to give people an idea of the messages and rhymes they could use in their cards.
When the postal service became more generally used by the 19th century Valentine’s Day cards became so popular they started to be mass-produced. But it was in 1913 that the mass marketing of Valentine’s Day began in earnest with Hallmark Cards producing their first sugar coated card that year.
Celebrate Valentine’s Day this year by lighting the candles and enjoying a romantic pie and mash for two, lovingly made by hand.