There are many legends associated with the origins and customs of St. Valentine’s Day, with little known about the true historical fact. Whatever the origins, this holiday is a lot of fun, full of hearts, cherubs, kisses, cuddles, chocolates and red-hot cinnamon hearts.
Some sources say that February 14th was the festival of Juno, the Roman Goddess of women and marriage. This festival was followed by Lupercalia, a very well-documented holiday of the Roman God of agriculture Faunus. At the beginning of the festival, an order of priests called the Luperci gathered at the cave where the she-wolf raised Romulous and Remus, the founders of Rome. They called the boys and young men of Rome to join them as they sacrificed a goat for fertility and a god for purification. The boys would slice the goat hide into strips and dip them into blood. They went into the streets where they slapped Roman women and crops with these strips of hide to ensure fertility and easy childbirth for the women as well as good crops.
Later that same day, the young women of Rome would place their names in an urn; and the city’s unmarried men would draw a name. The men and women would be paired together for a year; a custom that often ended in marriage.
Pope Gelasius declared that February 14th was St. Valentine’s Day in 498 B.C.E. and it is popularly believed that he did this to end the lottery associated with Lupercalia, deeming it an unchristian practice. St. Valentine’s Day did not become connected with romantic love until the medieval era, and it is not clear which St. Valentine the holiday is named for.
The most popular legend is of a priest living near Rome in 270 B.C.E. The Roman Emperor Claudius II had outlawed marriage because he believed that unmarried men made the best soldiers. In an empire beset by internal strife and attacks from many different sources, Rome needed many able soldiers. This priest named Valentine took pity on lovers and would administer the sacrament of marriage in secret. Claudius had him arrested. The emperor when meeting Valentine was so charmed by this earnest priest, that he attempted to convert him to the Roman gods so that Valentine could avoid execution. Valentine remained true to his Christian God and was executed to become a martyr and a saint.
While he was awaiting execution, his jailer, Asterius, requested that Valentine heal his blind daughter; and through the miracle of his steadfast faith, Valentine was able to restore her sight. Just before his execution, Valentine asked for a pen and paper and wrote a message to her, signing it “From Your Valentine,” a phrase now associated with this holiday of love and messages.
In medieval times, St. Valentine’s Day became associates with romantic love in France and England; it was believed that February 14th was the day that birds paired and mated. This is mentioned in Geoffrey Chaucer’s Parlement of Foules. It was common in those days for sweethearts to exchange messages on this day and to refer to each other as their “Valentines.”
As with many customs, the St. Valentine’s Day customs followed the Europeans as they settled the New World. The first mass-produced valentines were sold by Esther A. Howland (1828-1904) and were embossed paper lace. Her father owned a large book and stationary store in Worchester Massachusetts and she was inspired by a valentine she received from England. She became known as the Mother of the Valentine, and was known for her elaborate creations of lace, ribbons and pictures.
In the 21st century, this holiday has grown, and so have the customs associated with it. One billion cards per year are mailed on Valentine’s Day. Love and affection in all its manifestations are celebrated on this day. Passion, affection, steadfast love, crushes, lust, friendship, sex and family are all expressed with tokens of love.