Thursday, 14 February 2013

History of Valentine's Day

Every February 14th, candy, flowers and gifts are exchanged between loved ones, all in the name of St. Valentine around the world. But who is this mysterious saint, and where did these traditions come from?

Pre-Christian era
In ancient Rome, 13, 14 and 15 February were celebrated as Lupercalia, a pagan fertility festival. This seems to be the basis for a celebration of love on this date.

Circa AD 197
A Christian known as Valentine of Terni was martyred  after apparently being imprisoned, tortured and beheaded in Rome for his Christianity. According to legend, he died on 14 February, but that is likely a later embellishment.

Circa AD 289
Another Christian, Valentine of Rome, was martyred. Valentines was a priest who was apparently arrested for giving aid to his prisoners and helping young men marry in secret (apparently Emperor Claudius had banned marriage until a certain age so young men would make better soldiers). Many rumours circulate Valentine of Rome, particularly that while in jail, he is said to have converted his jailer by healing his blind daughter's sigh or that he fell in love with the daughter, sending her a note saying “From your Valentine” - however this probably just a myth. Like his earlier namesake, Valentine of Rome is supposed to have died on 14 February, but – again – this is implausible.

Circa AD 496
The then Pope, Gelasius, declared 14 February to be St Valentine's Day, a Christian feast day..

On St Valentine's Day a court was opened in Paris, the High Court of Love, dealing with affairs of the heart: marriage contracts, divorces, infidelity, and beaten spouses. A few years later, Charles, the Duke of Orleans wrote the first recorded Valentine's note to his beloved, while imprisoned in the Tower of London following capture at the Battle of Agincourt in 1415.

St Valentine's Day had become popular; even Shakespeare was writing about it: “To-morrow is Saint Valentine's day,/All in the morning betime,/And I a maid at your window,/To be your Valentine.”

Mid-18th century
The passing of love-notes became popular in England, a precursor to the St Valentine's Day card as we know it today. Early ones are made of lace and paper. In 1797, the The Young Man’s Valentine Writer is published, suggesting appropriate rhymes and messages, and as postal services became more affordable, the anonymous St Valentine's Day card became possible. By the early 19th century, they become so popular that factories started to mass-produce them.

Hallmark Cards produced their first Valentine card.

The St Valentine's Day Massacre took place, which was when five Chicago gangsters lined their victims up and shot them in the head with machine guns. 

The commercialisation continues: noting the sales effect of the holiday on chocolate, flowers and cards, the diamond industry got involved, promoting St Valentine's Day as a time for giving jewellery. The “tradition” takes off.

Valentine's Day generated an estimated £9.2 billion in retail sales in the United States alone.

An estimated 1 billion St Valentine's Day cards were sent worldwide, making it the second most card-heavy celebration after Christmas.

I hope you all have a lovely day and celebrate it with your loved ones.