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A Brief History of Valentine’s Day

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It’s Valentine’s Day tomorrow! No big plans around La Casa de Vmac — if I’m lucky, Joe might bring me flowers (and maybe even some cured meat like prosciutto…it’s a long standing Valentine’s inside joke, basically our equivalent to chocolate).

I’ve always been fascinated with the why behind so many things in our culture. We’ve all probably heard that Valentine’s Day is named after St. Valentine, but who was this guy, and how did it happen that we now use cards, flowers, and chocolates to celebrate his day, and express love? I did a little sleuthing to find out more about the Feast of St. Valentine (and what a feast it’ll be, with prosciutto and all). 

It turns out, maybe surprisingly, that the tradition of Valentine’s Day is old. Really old. The first recorded association of Valentine’s Day and love actually comes from Geoffrey Chaucer who wrote in Parlement of Foules, “For this was on Saint Valentine’s Day, when every bird cometh there to choose his mate.” But before this, the origin of Valentine’s Day is typically traced back to a particular Saint, who was persecuted for performing weddings for soldiers, who were not allowed to marry, and also ministering to Christians. This was all happening in the 200s — yes, the 200s! Like any folklore that dates back so long, it’s also possible that Valentine’s Day can be traced to a few other Saints, though this story is the one that’s generally accepted. When Saint Valentine was in prison, awaiting trial and execution, he sent a love letter to a girl he’d fallen in love with, and signed it “From your Valentine.” The rest, as they say, is history. By the Middle Ages, Saint Valentine was one of the most popular saints in Europe.

So why is it celebrated on February 14? Some historians believe that Valentine’s Day was placed in mid-February to ‘Christianize’ the pagan tradition of Lupercalia, which was celebrated on February 15, and was a fertility festival (ooh la la!). In the 5th century, Pope Gelasius declared February 14 as ‘St. Valentine’s Day.’ Later, in the Middle Ages, the day became associated with romantic love, likely because many believed that February 14 was the first day of bird mating season (as if birds know the date and decide they should do something about it, but nevertheless…), hence the day would also be a day for humans to celebrate romance. It was during this time that actual Valentine’s started being sent, though written Valentine’s are on record after the year 1400. In 1415, the Duke of Orleans, who was imprisoned in the Tower of London, sent his wife a Valentine that read, “Je suis desja d’amour tanné / Ma tres doulce Valentinée…” – which Google Translate is having a hard time translating, but I know the last part means My very sweet Valentine.

Of course, as with any holiday that’s so old and steeped in folklore, some historians disagree on the early history of the holiday, but one this is for sure — by the 1400s, Valentine’s totally existed.

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Here’s a fun tidbit — in 1590, Edmund Spenser wrote in The Faerie Queen, “She bath’d with roses red, and violets blew / And all the sweetest flowres, that in the forrest grew.” Sound familiar? Later, this verse would appear in another poem, part of Gammer Gurton’s Garland collection of nursery rhymes: “The rose is red, the violet’s blue / The honey’s sweet, and so are you. / Thou art my love and I am thine; / I drew thee to my Valentine: / The lot was cast and then I drew, / And Fortune said it shou’d be you.” This was published in 1784! That’s how old that now-cliche poem is.

By the early 19th century, paper Valentine’s became extremely popular, so much so that factories began mass producing them. Valentines were made with real lace and ribbons (pretty!). Paper lace started being produced in the mid 19th century.

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In the second half of the 20th century, cards gave way to giving gifts, flowers, and chocolate (surprise surprise). And it wasn’t until the 1980s that the diamond industry started promoting Valentine’s Day as an occasion to give jewelry (again — surprise surprise). Today, the Greeting Card Association estimates that 1 billion Valentine’s are sent each year, making it the second largest card-sending holiday in the U.S., only second to Christmas, which typically sees 2.6 billion cards!

Pretty interesting stuff, right? So, what are you doing for the holiday tomorrow? (You should answer last week’s question of the week — your comment could appear in Friday’s post!)

{Image Credits: Jonathan Canlas; Alayna Jay?; A Beautiful Mess; All images also on my Pinterest page Two Peas. Valentine’s history found via Wikipedia and History.com. Super interesting stuff there if you want to learn more!}

 

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19 responses to “A Brief History of Valentine’s Day”

  1. Lauren, on February 13, 2013 at 10:21 am said:

    I love that you researched this so thoroughly! Now I can rub it in to my Joe that Hallmark did not, in fact, invent Valentine’s day. Cheers!

    Reply
  2. Erica, on February 13, 2013 at 10:23 am said:

    A fun little history lesson! Will be spending V-day solo, with the hubs away in Australia. I predict I’ll catch little girl-TV and some sofa time with the four-legged friend! Cheers!

    Reply
  3. Lacey, on February 13, 2013 at 10:27 am said:

    I love the range of subjects that you write about on your blog! It’s quickly becoming one of my favorites.

    Reply
  4. Tobe | Because It's Awesome, on February 13, 2013 at 10:29 am said:

    pretty old like BEFORE HALLMARK COULD HAVE INVENTED IT. just had to throw that in there.

    also, consider buying your vday card at walmart bc i designed some of those beauties :)

    Reply
  5. Kristina, on February 13, 2013 at 11:32 am said:

    Thanks for the history lesson – I told my boyfriend that Valentine’s Day isn’t a Hallmark Holiday and he didn’t believe me!

    Kristina

    kristinadoestheinternets.blogspot.com

    Reply
  6. Amberly, on February 13, 2013 at 11:53 am said:

    I love your blog! So great that you researched this so in depth!

    Reply
  7. Drew @ Catfish & Caviar, on February 13, 2013 at 12:17 pm said:

    We decided to DIY this year and not spend a whole lot. Dinner with the parents and some relaxation!

    Reply
  8. Kenzie Lee, on February 13, 2013 at 12:28 pm said:

    Thanks for sharing Victoria! Not sure exactly what our plans are but one thing is for sure! I have a special surprise planned for the morning :)

    X Kenzie

    Reply
  9. Stefanie // Life on the Squares, on February 13, 2013 at 12:47 pm said:

    I would be so totally happy with flowers & prosciutto…and wine (of course)! love this little history you put together :) also, check out my blog (I have a really great giveaway this week).

    xo, Stefanie
    Life on the Squares

    Reply
  10. Emily, on February 13, 2013 at 1:38 pm said:

    I loved reading this! Its comforting to know the holiday has a base in something other than the greeting card company (although I fully support sending presents on V-Day)

    Reply
  11. kelsey, on February 13, 2013 at 3:12 pm said:

    such beautiful photos! i’d love something like them to hang on my wall of my boyfriend and i.
    kw ladies in navy

    Reply
  12. Alicia, on February 13, 2013 at 4:38 pm said:

    I was actually just in Italy and one of our tour guides expanded on that story a bit: men who were married couldn’t be enlisted into the army, so when the emperor’s men were scheduled to storm into the town… St. Valentine married off all the eligible bachelors so the town wouldn’t lose a generation of young men. Slightly different version of the same story. Cute, though, right?!

    Reply
  13. Emily, on February 13, 2013 at 5:59 pm said:

    Fascinating! I had not idea that this dated so far back. Thanks for the mini-history lesson!
    Isn’t That Charming.

    Reply
  14. Dana McDowell, on February 13, 2013 at 7:13 pm said:

    How fun. Coming from Catholic school, it was tradition to watch some bizarre movie about Saint Valentine. A dorky girl was the lead, and I’m not quite sure what she learned in the end. I always love V Day because my parents’ wedding anniversary is just two days after =) 28 years and counting!

    Reply
  15. caitlin, on February 14, 2013 at 7:15 am said:

    this was so interesting. loved it!

    Reply
  16. Chelsea, on February 14, 2013 at 7:53 am said:

    I love that you researched my favorite holiday! Thanks for the tidbits – very interesting! Hope you have a happy one!

    Reply
  17. Kate @ Travelmoon, on February 14, 2013 at 8:08 pm said:

    That was extremely interesting! I really loved hearing the historical origins of the holiday. In response to last weeks question, my husband usually gives me flowers. But last year our first child was born a week before Valentine’s Day and I consider her my greatest Valentine’s present. This year we celebrated by having a Valentine’s themed birthday party for her: http://travelmoonblog.blogspot.com/2013/02/valentines-1st-birthday-party.html

    :)

    Reply

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