SAN ANTONIO—It’s celebrated annually across the globe, but do you know the origins of this popular holiday? Every Feb. 14 candy, flowers and gifts are exchanged between loved ones. Let’s step back in time to explore where these traditions began.
The history of Valentine’s Day and its patron saint is shrouded in mystery. The Catholic Church recognizes at least three different saints named Valentine, all of which were martyred.
One legend states that Valentine was a priest who served during the third century under Emperor Claudius II. Claudius decided that single men made better soldiers than those with families and outlawed marriage for young men. Valentine defied Claudius and continued to perform marriages for young lovers until he was discovered by Claudius and put to death. Another story suggests that an imprisoned Valentine sent the first “valentine” greeting after he fell in love with a young girl who’d visit him during confinement. Allegedly, he wrote her a letter before his death signed “From your Valentine,” an expression that is still in use today.
Pope Gelasius declared Feb. 14th St. Valentine’s Day at the end of the fifth century. During the Middle Ages, it was of common belief that this was the beginning of birds’ mating season, which added to the idea that it should be a day of romance. Valentine greetings were popular but written Valentine’s did not appear until after 1400. The oldest known was a poem written in 1415 by Charles, Duke of Orleans, to his wife while he was imprisoned in the Tower of London.
In the 18th century it was common practice to exchange small tokens or handwritten notes, and by 1900 printed cards began to replace them as printing technology improved. In the 1840s, Esther A. Howland began selling the first mass-produced valentines in America. Howland, known as the “Mother of the Valentine,” made elaborate creations of real lace, ribbons and colorful pictures. According to the Greeting Card Association, an estimated 1 billion Valentine’s Day cards are sent each year.
Today, we see other celebrations and traditions popping up because of Valentine’s Day, such as Singles Day in China. People have entire anti-Valentine’s Day parties where it is frowned upon to bring a date. It has even gone as far as getting another name, Singles Awareness Day (SAD). In Finland, they celebrate “Friend’s Day” which is more about your buddies than loved ones. Thanks to William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, the city of Verona receives approximately 1,000 letters addressed to Juliet every Valentine’s Day.
Whether you have a Valentine or not this Valentine’s Day, you now know a bit about how this day came to be.
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