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A History of Valentine’s Day

Valentine’s Day makes us think of beautiful pink and red heart decorations, decadent chocolates, lush flower bouquets, Valentine greeting cards, and all things romantic.

The fascinating history of Valentine’s Day and how we came to celebrate it as we do today may surprise you! It didn’t just originate as a day of couples and gift giving, but its origins are all about love and togetherness. Our journey through the history takes us from ancient Rome and into Victorian times. The special day is now celebrated all over the world.

The first observations of what became what we know as Valentine’s Day date back to the splendor and opulence of Ancient Rome to a celebration called Lupercalia. Lupercalia lasted three days, and was celebrated February 13, 14, and 15. It was to bless and purify the city and bring about good health and fertility for the people. The way they did this was through feasting, and a run around a sacred hill, touching women with blessed objects to ensure they could conceive if they were not with child, and to ensure the child would be healthy if they were. During this, couples were paired off with one another through a lottery system where eligible men drew names of eligible ladies. Some couples liked each other so much, they stayed together even after the celebration.

The name and more modern lore we have comes to us later than this, and due to the lives of some kindly Saints, known as Valentine. This was established as a special day in 496.

The first Saint was Valentine of Rome. The second was Valentine of Terni. A third Saint was from a province of Africa and little is known about him. Their deeds made them well loved, and what many considered worthy of dedicating a day all about love in their memory.

One story tells St. Valentine married soldiers in secret, as it was forbidden by the emperor Claudius II.

Another story states Valentine healed the blindness of the emperor’s family member even though the emperor had condemned him to death. He cured the blindness on the day before he was to be executed, so great was his love for humanity. Valentine was said to have cut out paper hearts to give to people to remind them to love one another. He was said to have sent a note to the emperor’s daughter, whose sight he restored by and signed it, “Your Valentine.” This is said to be how Valentines greetings originated.

Courtly love became quite popular in the Middle Ages, and the concept extolled the virtues of romance, and true love in the royal courts of Europe. Stories were characterized by beautiful ladies and dashing men falling madly in love. Their love was pure and wholesome, and sometimes, the cruel world sought to keep them apart. Chivalry and remaining deeply in love no matter what happened are themes in the stories. Tragic stories of lovers like Tristan and Isolde, who accidentally drank a potion that made them fall deeply in love with one another, and the ill-fated Lancelot and Guinevere, who met after Guinevere had already married King Arthur are well known. The feudal marriages arranged for financial or political and gain still happened, but people valued love bonds, and undying devotion. During this time it was believed that birds coupled in February. Many kinds of birds also mate for life. Thus, we see lovebirds on many Valentine’s greetings.

Today, we don’t celebrate Lupercalia, and many don’t celebrate the Feast days of Saints. It was the Victorians, who gave us so many of our modern holiday traditions that helped make Valentine’s Day as popular as it is now. Into the 20th Century, more changes happened to give us today’s celebrations.

This did not happen all at once, and you will be impressed by how savvy business people started trends we enjoy and that profited them well. Read on about some of the things we celebrate the occasion with today, and their origins.

Cards

Greetings cards are popular today, and a few manufacturers made sure that happened.

By the early 1800s over 60,000 paper Valentine’s greetings were sent via mail, just in the UK. However, postage was still expensive then. So, in 1840, when there was a reduction in postage rates, over 400,000 Valentines were sent immediately following on the first year.

The US was not far behind. In 1847, the first American mass-produced Valentine’s Day cards were churned out by the Massachusetts company ran by an Esther Howland and her family. She was inspired by a British Valentine card she got, and imported supplies to make her own. Before these mass-produced cards, of course, people handmade their own cards to send. Today, close to 190 million Valentine’s greeting cards are sent each year just in the US.

Confectionery

What would Valentine’s Day be without sweets? The Cadbury company decided to make heart shaped boxes filled with chocolates as early as 1868, and the boxes were so pretty, they were saved to put keepsakes in. It is estimated that 16 billion dollars is spent on confectionery gifts for Valentine’s Day in the US alone. Chocolate, a known aphrodisiac, is made from ground cacao, and the first known use of it was by the Olmecs as early as 1750 BC. Aztecs and Mayans used it, and the Europeans encountered it when they discovered The New World. They took it back to Europe with them, where by the mid 1600s, it became very popular among the royalty. Production was originally manual, but by the Industrial Revolution, several inventions were available that made both the growing and harvesting easier, and also made food production at home and in professional kitchens simpler. Today, about 58 million pounds of chocolate is given at Valentine’s day.

Flowers

It is not unusual to see a dozen roses go from costing $12 to $40 overnight at Valentine’s Day.

Flowers represent romantic love, and that is why they are so popular at Valentine’s Day. One lady who made roses very popular to characterize love was Charlotte de Latour, who published “Language of Flowers”. In it, she said roses mean love. She wrote, “Nature seems to have exhausted all her skill in the freshness, the beauty of form, the fragrance, the delicate color, and the gracefulness which she has bestowed upon the rose.”

The rose became ever more popular, and the Victorians sold and bought huge amounts of them.

Most people you ask what flowers they prefer will say it is the rose. Specifically, the red rose symbolizes romance, and desire. Red roses are linked to Aphrodite, the goddess of love. A single red rose represents love at first sight, and a dozen mean “be mine”. Fifty red roses means boundless love.

People in Italy cash out the most at Valentine’s day with a whopping $855.39 per person spent on average. Cities that spend the most though are recorded as Los Angeles USA, Venice Italy, New York City USA, Sydney Australia, and Zurich Switzerland. The most popular recipes for Valentine’s Day are steak with peppercorn sauce, potatoes dauphinoise, spaghetti carbonara, and of course - CUPCAKES!

Valentine’s Day has been an important holiday for generations, and will continue to be a popular observation of love and all things romance.

Happy Valentine’s Day.

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