What exactly is Valentines Day? 

We know it as a day to celebrate love, whether with our girls or with our partners, but mostly self-love.

And there are all kinds of traditions that go along with it, from the expectation of romance, dinners, roses, and of course, chocolate.

But how did we get Valentines and who in the world is the namesake for this popularized holiday?

Valentines comes from the name of a real person, Saint Valentine who is credited as sending the first valentine in the third century.  The mythos of this character was that in 269 C.E., a priest, Valentinus of Rome was to be executed.  Emperor Claudius II declared that single men were better off as soldiers than as husbands with families and so he outlawed marriage for boys.  Priest Valentinus, who realized this decree was unrealistic continued to perform marriages for young lovers in secret.  When Valentinus was discovered he was imprisoned and forced to be executed.

Another legend of this hero suggests that Valentine may have been killed for attempting to help Christians escape Roman prisons.

His last act before his death was to write a love letter to a woman who often came to visit him while he was imprisoned.  At the end of the note, he signed the letter, “From Your Valentine,” an expression we still use today.  And so Valentinus created the historical first valentine, though out of more morbid circumstances than how we sign our cards.

Hundreds of years later, Pope Gelasius declared Valentinus’ death date, February 14th, as St. Valentine’s Day.  St. Valentined lived in Rome, but the holiday stemmed from both ancient Roman and Christian traditions.

In the 300’s C.E., Romans would celebrate Lupercalia on February 15th of each year.  This festival was dedicated to Faunus, the Roman God of Agriculture, who helped women with fertility.  Roman priest would sacrifice a goat, since Faunus was a half man, half goat, and then the priests would skin the goat, soaking the skin in blood, and go around the town slapping all the women with the hide.  This was believed to aide with their fertility in that coming year.

Then, later in the day, all the single women in the town would place their names in a large urn near the sacrifice.  The names were then drawn out by the bachelors of the town and they would end up as couples, and often marriages.

One hundred years later, in the 400’s, Lupercalia was outlawed as a demonic, pagan ritual, and Pope Gelasius instituted Valentines Day on February 14th to placate the Romans and “christianize” a pagan tradition.

St. Valentines Day was first recorded as a celebration of love and romance by Geoffrey Chaucer in his poem “Parliament of Foules” in 1375, and the oldest valentine in existence today was another poem.  This poem, written in 1415 by Charles Duke of Orleans, to his wife while imprisoned in the Tower of London, rings of love and romance.

The Holiday of Valentines Day didn’t come to mean cards and gifts until the early 1800’s when cards started to be mass-produced in the US and Britain, and then in the 1900’s Hallmark was established as a company.  As some call it a “Hallmark Holiday” there is actually some truth to this nomenclature.  Hallmark marketed Valentines Day to the masses, creating cards that were affordable for the first time in the United States as well as helping the mail system to become more efficient.

Now Valentine’s Day as a holiday is celebrated throughout the globe in the US, Britain, Mexico, France, Australia, and Canada.  And not only do you send Valentine’s cards, there is now the tradition of chocolates and flowers.

About the author

Alice Cash is the Marketing Manager for Jubilance by day and an award winning Theatre Director by night.  Leading the podcast Weekly Woman, she loves her candid conversations with women from all over the world about how they live and the amazing things they are doing to make a difference. Alice is also the editor of the bi-monthly newsletter the Jubilee, a blog dedicated to the power of female wellness especially concerning menstruation.  She’s worked in France creating theatre pieces and taught drama and filmmaking to women and children in Haiti.  She graduated from Georgetown University and holds two master degrees from NYU and The New School.  Alice has traveled to  40+ countries, including Tibet.  She is a New Yorker and can often be found in Central Park, searching out the best bubble tea, or directing a play, you never know where she’ll show up. @alicesadventuresinwonderworld
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