When February 14 rolls around, those of us in the United States and in a growing number of countries line up to buy candy, flowers, and gifts for our lovers and friends.
I'm guessing if you're like me, you may not have given tons of thought as to the actual origins of the tradition. Why did humanity begin celebrating the day in the first place? And why do we do things like give red roses, chocolates, and cards?
The following will seek to answer these questions and more!
#1 - The Legend of St. Valentine or a Replacement for a Former Pagan Celebration?
February 14 was once called the Feast of St. Valentine in the Roman Empire. The most common explanation is that the tradition commemorates the death of St. Valentine, a Catholic priest who was executed by Roman Emperor Claudius II during the Third Century A.D.
Legend has it that Claudius II outlawed marriage for men because he thought it would make them less aggressive and successful warriors. Yet, in the face of the law, St. Valentine married couples because he was committed to love, family, and the Catholic Church above all things.
While there are many who have thought the legend to be true, others have concluded the holiday may have been promoted to overshadow the pagan festival Lupercalia.
Between February 13 and 15, Romans celebrated by sacrificing a goat and a dog and then whipping women with the animal hides.
Yes, this sounds crazy! But, apparently they believed this made women more fertile and assumed these troubling acts really worked to further the world as they knew it.
In the Fifth Century, Pope Gelasius I outlawed Lupercalia and officially declared February 14 as Valentine’s Day.
Could it be that both theories are rooted in some truth? Some historians think they could be related in one way or another, but we may never know the full details.
#2 - Why We Write “From Your Valentine” on Our Cards
Honestly, I’m more excited about the legend of St. Valentine than the history behind the funky pagan festival. I love the idea that a bold and fervent man risked everything for love ❤️
Thankfully, there’s more to the story.
Legend has it that when St. Valentine was in prison, he prayed with the daughter of one of his judges and cured her blindness. Before his execution, he wrote her a letter and signed it, “From Your Valentine.”
Some argue that his message wasn’t one of romantic love, while others believe that deep down inside he craved love and found it in his last days.
#3 - Is The Heart Symbol Not What We Think It Is?
The heart is a complex organ made up of valves and muscles that keep it pumping. If it were drawn exactly as it is, the romance of it falls away a bit and becomes far more scientific in look and feel.
While it’s logical to assume a simplified drawing of the heart is a cute and romantic way of depicting our most essential organ, some historians think there’s another reason behind its original meaning.
One of the leading theories is that the heart drawing resembles the now-extinct plant silphium.
Once found in the African city-state Cyrene, the plant was used as food coloring, a cough syrup, and most notably, a contraceptive. Its seed pod was naturally in the shape of a heart!
As time progressed, some historians have asserted the pod became associated as a symbol of love for humanity rather than connected to the hearts beating in our chests.
#4 - Why Are Roses Red on Valentine’s Day?
Red roses have been associated with romance since the Victorian era. This is when Floriography, or the language of flowers, was born.
Each flower was given a specific meaning, and when a person gave a certain kind of flower, it conveyed an unspoken message.
Red roses were associated with romantic love, while yellow roses were associated with friendship, and so on.
Thankfully, beautiful red roses still carry the same meaning today!
#5 - Why We Give Chocolates
This tradition began when Richard Cadbury decided to use the celebration to market his new edible chocolates.
After he and his brother took over his family’s chocolate manufacturing business in 1861, they discovered a way to extract pure cocoa butter from whole beans and added it to the company’s already famous chocolate drink.
The duo processed more cocoa butter than expected and experimented with "eating chocolates." It's safe to say that they succeeded.
Cadbury started designing ornate boxes for their new chocolates, including special Valentine's Day editions with roses and cupids. People loved the idea and began buying them for their lovers.
The rest is history.
Bonus Fun Fact:
Valentine's day cards in America became popular, thanks to to a young female entrepreneur in the 1940s.
Ester Howland, a student at Mount Holyoke Female Seminary, decided to create ready-made cards that were as beautiful as the handwritten notes that people made by hand in England.
She founded the New England Valentine Co. and made $100,000 in annual revenues, which was a huge financial win back in those days.
As history would have it, she earned the title "Mother of the American Valentine."
Now, more than 114 million cards are sent each Valentine's Day!
Looking for some amazing Valentine's Day gift ideas?
You should definitely check out the following posts: