What’s red and white and has hearts all over? Valentine’s Day!
But do you know the origins of this blessed (or cursed) day of love, romance and sex? Valentine’s Day has a rich history that stretches back hundreds of years. There might be some debate over a few aspects of the story, but they main player is there, and it starts with the man himself, St. Valentine.
The Romans were a curious lot. As a society they were, perhaps, unmatched in social customs. At one point, Emperor Claudius II banned marriage for soldiers, fearing it made them lesser warriors. However, the custom was held dear and the men were unhappy. St. Valentine was having none of this, believe it was right that these men should be able to marry, so he started performing the ceremony on the sly. The story goes that one of the ways people could recognize him was by the amethyst ring he wore. It was inscribed with a popular figure of the time, Cupid.
Not That Simple
Of course, you don’t often get the word Saint affixed to your name without some potential controversy. Valentine was eventually caught and jailed. However, while there, he performed his miracle, restoring sight to the blind daughter of his judge. There are differing versions of the story that say he also feel in love with her, but, in the end, he was still sentenced to death. But, before he met his maker, he did send her a letter. And at the bottom, he signed it “Your Valentine.”
Over the many centuries, many different Valentine stories came up across Europe, but this one remains the most popular. Althouth, it wasn’t until the 14th century that this tale was connected to romantic love. Geoffrey Chaucer seems to have been the first to make this connection. Chaucer famous wrote of his “love birds” seeking their mate in his collection Parlement of Foules.
It wasn’t until the 18th century that the modern incarnation of Valentine’s Day really took hold, with the Brits kicking this madness into overdrive. In 1797, a British publisher put out a book, The Young Man’s Valentine Writer for those fellows who weren’t feeling confident enough to produce their own verse. Creating handmade Valentine’s presents, in the now common heart, dove and Cupid shapes was the rage. However, the shift to mass-produced or “mechanical valentines” was underway and by mid-century hundreds of thousands of factory-produced Valentine’s of ribbon, lace and paper lace were being made and mailed to beloveds all around. This was expanded to chocolates, flowers and more.
This has grown into a multi-billion dollar industry around the world. From the little Valentine’s that kids hand out at school (hopefully to everybody!) to the cards and gifts to lovers, spouses and family, it is estimated that Americans spend over $1 billion every year on Valentine’s day.
How do you feel about Valentine’s Day? Love it? Hate it? Not sure what to buy that special someone? Valentine’s Day might be polarizing, but it has a rich history to learn from.