The History of Valentine's Day

"People in most Western countries celebrate Valentine's Day on February 14.
Many schools hold Valentine's Day parties when the children make special
decorations for their classrooms. Old and young alike exchange Valentine cards
with their friends. The custom of exchanging greetings on Valentine's Day goes
back hundreds of years. Scholars have found records of Valentine notes that
date from the 1400's.

Valentine's Day is a special day observed on February 14. On this day, people
send greeting cards called valentines to their sweethearts, friends, and members of their families. Many valentines have romantic verses, and others have humorous pictures and sayings. Many say, "Be my valentine."

For weeks before February 14, stores sell valentines and valentine decorations
. Schoolchildren decorate their classrooms with paper hearts and lace for the
occasion. On Valentine's Day, many people give candy, flowers,
and other gifts to their friends.

Valentine's Day Around the World
In the United States and Canada, children exchange valentines with their
friends. In some schools, the children hold a classroom party and put all the
valentines into a box they have decorated. At the end of the day, the teacher
or one child distributes the cards. Many children make their own valentines
from paper doilies, red paper, wallpaper samples, and pictures cut from
magazines. Sometimes they buy kits that include everything needed to
make valentines. Many children send their largest, fanciest
cards to their parents and teachers.

Older students hold Valentine's Day dances and parties. They make candy
baskets, gifts, and place cards trimmed with hearts and fat, winged children
called cupids. Many people send flowers, a box of candy, or some other gift
to their wives, husbands, or sweethearts. Most valentine candy
boxes are heart-shaped and tied with red ribbon.

In Europe, people celebrate Valentine's Day in many ways. British children sing
special Valentine's Day songs and receive gifts of candy, fruit, or money. In
some areas of England, people bake valentine buns with caraway seeds, plums,
or raisins. People in Italy hold a Valentine's Day feast.

In Britain and Italy, some unmarried women get up before
sunrise on Valentine's Day. They stand by

the window watching for a man to pass. They believe that the first man they
see, or someone who looks like him, will marry them within a year. William
Shakespeare, the English playwright, mentions this belief in Hamlet (1603).
Ophelia, a woman in the play, sings:

Good morrow! 'Tis St. Valentine's Day
All in the morning betime,
And I a maid at your window,
To be your valentine!

In Denmark, people send pressed white flowers called snowdrops to their
friends. Danish men also send a type of valentine called a gaekkebrev (joking
letter). The sender writes a rhyme but does not sign his name. Instead, he
signs the valentine with dots, one dot for each letter of his name. If the
woman who gets it guesses his name, he rewards her with an Easter egg on
Easter. Some people in Great Britain also send valentines signed with dots.

Different authorities believe Valentine's Day began in various ways. Some trace
it to an ancient Roman festival called Lupercalia. Other experts connect the
event with one or more saints of the early Christian church. Still others link it
with an old English belief that birds choose their mates on February 14.
Valentine's Day probably came from a combination of all three of those
sources--plus the belief that spring is a time for lovers.

The ancient Romans held the festival of Lupercalia on February 15 to ensure
protection from wolves. During this celebration, young men struck people with
strips of animal hide. Women took the blows because they thought that the
whipping made them more fertile. After the Romans conquered Britain in A.D.
43, the British borrowed many Roman festivals. Many writers link the festival
of Lupercalia with Valentine's Day because of the similar date and the
connection with fertility.

The early Christian church had at least two saints named Valentine. According
to one story, the Roman Emperor Claudius II in the A.D. 200's forbade young
men to marry. The emperor thought single men made better soldiers. A priest
named Valentine disobeyed the emperor's order and
secretly married young couples.

Another story says Valentine was an early Christian who made friends with many
children. The Romans imprisoned him because he refused to worship their gods.
The children missed Valentine and tossed loving notes between the bars of his
cell window. This tale may explain why people exchange messages on
Valentine's Day. According to still another story, Valentine restored
the sight of his jailer's blind daughter.

Many stories say that Valentine was executed on February 14 about A.D. 269.
In A.D. 496, Saint Pope Gelasius I named February 14 as St. Valentine's Day.

In Norman French, a language spoken in Normandy during the Middle Ages,
the word galantine sounds like Valentine and means gallant or lover. This
resemblance may have caused people to think of St. Valentine
as the special saint of lovers.

The earliest records of Valentine's Day in English tell that birds chose their
mates on that day. People used a different calendar before 1582, and
February 14 came on what is now February 24. Geoffrey Chaucer, an English
poet of the 1300's, wrote in The Parliament of Fowls, "For this was on St.
Valentine's Day, When every fowl cometh there to choose his mate."
Shakespeare also mentioned this belief in A Midsummer Night's Dream.
A character in the play discovers two lovers in the woods and asks,
"St. Valentine is past; Begin these woodbirds but to couple now?"

Early Valentine Customs
People in England probably celebrated Valentine's Day as early as the 1400's.
Some historians trace the custom of sending verses on Valentine's Day to a
Frenchman named Charles, Duke of Orleans. Charles was captured by the
English during the Battle of Agincourt in 1415. He was taken to England and
put in prison. On Valentine's Day, he sent his wife a rhymed love letter from
his cell in the Tower of London.

Many Valentine's Day customs involved ways that single women could learn who
their future husbands would be. Englishwomen of the 1700's wrote men's
names on scraps of paper, rolled each in a little piece of clay, and dropped
them all into water. The first paper that rose to the surface
supposedly had the name of a woman's true love.

Also in the 1700's, unmarried women pinned five bay leaves to their pillows
on the eve of Valentine's Day. They pinned one leaf to the center of the
pillow and one to each corner. If the charm worked,
they saw their future husbands in their dreams.

In Derbyshire, a county in central England, young women circled the
church 3 or 12 times at midnight and repeated such verses as:

I sow hempseed.
Hempseed I sow.
He that loves me best,
Come after me now.
Their true loves then supposedly appeared.

One of the oldest customs was the practice of writing women's names on slips
of paper and drawing them from a jar. The woman whose name was drawn by a
man became his valentine, and he paid special attention to her. Many men gave
gifts to their valentines. In some areas, a young man gave his valentine a pair
of gloves. Wealthy men gave fancy balls to honor their valentines.

One description of Valentine's Day during the 1700's tells how groups of
friends met to draw names. For several days, each man wore his valentine's
name on his sleeve. The saying wearing his heart on his sleeve
probably came from this practice.

The custom of sending romantic messages gradually replaced that of giving
gifts. In the 1700's and 1800's, many stores sold handbooks called valentine
writers. These books included verses to copy and various
suggestions about writing valentines.

Commercial valentines were first made in the early 1800's. Many of them were
blank inside, with space for the sender to write a message. The British artist
Kate Greenaway became famous for her valentines in the late 1800's. Many of
her cards featured charming pictures of happy children and lovely gardens.

Esther A. Howland, of Worcester, Massachusetts, became one of the first
U.S. manufacturers of valentines. In 1847, after seeing a British valentine,
she decided to make some of her own. She made samples and took orders from
stores. Then she hired a staff of young women and set up an assembly line to
produce the cards. One woman glued on paper flowers, another added lace,
and another painted leaves. Howland soon expanded her business
into a $100,000-a-year enterprise.

Many valentines of the 1800's were hand painted. Some featured a fat cupid
or showed arrows piercing a heart. Many cards had satin, ribbon, or lace trim.
Others were decorated with dried flowers, feathers, imitation jewels,
mother-of-pearl, sea shells, or tassels. Some cards cost as much as $10.

From the mid-1800's to the early 1900's, many people sent comic valentines
called penny dreadfuls. These cards sold for a penny
and featured such insulting verses as:

'Tis all in vain your simpering looks,
You never can incline,
With all your bustles, stays, and curls,
To find a valentine.

Many penny dreadfuls and other old valentines have become collectors' items.

Valentine, Saint, is the name associated with two martyrs of the early Christian
church. Little is known about them. The Roman history of martyrs lists two
Saint Valentines as having been martyred on February 14 by being beheaded.
One supposedly died in Rome and the other at Interamna, now Terni, 60 miles
(97 kilometers) from Rome. Scholars have had great difficulty in finding
historical fact among the Saint Valentine legends.

The Saint Valentine who died in Rome seems to have been a priest who suffered
death during the persecution of Claudius the Goth about A.D. 269. A basilica
was built in his honor in Rome in A.D. 350, and a catacomb containing his
remains was found on this location.

Another history of martyrs mentions a Saint Valentine who was bishop of
Interamna and who may have been martyred in Rome. By being remembered
both in Rome and in Interamna, he may have come to be considered as two
people, but this is not entirely certain.

The custom of exchanging valentines on February 14 can be traced to the
English poet, Geoffrey Chaucer. He mentioned that birds began
to pair off on that day."

~Above information taken from The World Book Encyclopedia 1998~

Another View 

When Rome was first founded it was surrounded by a wilderness. Great packs of wolves roamed over the countryside. Among their many gods the Romans had one named Lupercus who watched over the shepherds and their flocks. In his honour they held a great feast in February of each year and called it the Lupercalia. The Lupercalia festival was an echo of the days when Rome consisted of a group of shepherd folk that lived on a hill now known as Palantine. On the calendar used back in those days, February came later than it does today, so Lupercalia was a spring festival.

Some believe the festival honored Faunus, who like the Greek Pan, was a god of herds and crops, But the origin of Lupercalia is so ancient that even scholars of the last century before Christ were never sure.

There is no question about its importance. Records show, for instance, that Mark Antony, an important Roman, was master of the Luperci College of Priests. He chose the Lupercalia festival of the year 44BC as the proper time for offering the crown to Julius Caesar.

Each year, on February 15, the Luperci priests gathered on the Palantine at the cave of Lupercal. Here, according to legend, Romulus and Remus, founders of Rome, had been nursed by a mother wolf. In Latin, the word lupus is the word for wolf.

Some of the rituals involved youths of noble birth running through the streets with goatskin thongs. Young women would crowd the street in the hope of being lashed with the sacred thongs as it was believed to make them better able to bear children. The goatskin thongs were known as the februa and the lashing the februatio, both coming from a Latin word meaning to purify. The name of the month February comes from this meaning.

Long after Rome became a walled city and the seat of a powerful empire, the Lupercalia lived on. When Roman armies invaded France and Britain, they took the Lupercalia customs there. One of these is believed to be a lottery where the names of Roman maidens were placed in a box and drawn out by the young men. Each man accepted the girl whose name he drew as his love - for a year or longer.

Also known as Valentine of Terni, Valentine of Rome

Confusion surrounds exactly who St Valentine was. According to the Catholic Encyclopaedia, at least three Saint Valentines are mentioned in the early martyrologies under the date of 14 February. One is described as a priest at Rome, another as a Bishop of Interamna (now Terni in Italy) and the other lived and died in Africa.

The Bishop of Interamna is most widely accepted as the basis of the modern saint. He was an early Christian martyr who lived in northern Italy in the third century and was put to death on 14 February around 270AD on the orders of emperor Claudius the Second for flouting the ban on Christianity.

However, though Valentine of Terni and Valentine of Rome have separate entries in martyrologies and biographies, most scholars believe they are the same person.


In the city of Rome in the years around 270AD there lived an Emperor named Claudius. He is known in history
as Claudius the Cruel.

Near his palace was a beautiful temple where the priest Valentine served. The Romans loved him dearly and assembled in the temple to hear his words. Before the fire that always burned on the altar they knelt to ask his blessing. Rich and poor, wise and ignorant, old and young, noble and common people they all flocked to Valentine.

Wars broke out in the Roman Empire. Claudius summoned the citizens forth to battle and year after year the fighting continued. Many of the Romans were unwilling to go. The married men did not want to leave their families. The younger men did not wish to leave their sweethearts. The Emperor was angry when soldiers were too few. He ordered that no marriages should be celebrated and that all engagements must be broken off immediately.

Now the good priest Valentine heard of the Emperor's command and was very sad. When a young couple came to the temple, he secretly united them in marriage in front of the sacred altar. Another pair sought his aid and in secret he wedded them. Others came and quietly were married. Valentine was the friend of lovers in every district of Rome.

But, such secrets could not be kept for long in Rome. At last word of Valentine's acts reached the palace and Claudius the Cruel was angry, exceedingly angry. He summoned his soldiers. "Go! Take that priest in the temple! Cast him into a dungeon! No man in Rome, priest or not, shall disobey my commands!"

Valentine was dragged from the temple, away from the altar where a young maiden and a Roman youth stood, ready to be married, and the soldiers took him off to prison.

Many asked Claudius to release Valentine but Claudius refused to do so, and in a dungeon Valentine languished and died. His devoted friends buried him in the church of St. Praxedes. When you go to Rome you can see the very place.
It was the year 270AD, on the 14th of February.


Another story says that Valentine was one of the early Christians in those far-away days when that meant danger and death. For helping some Christian martyrs he was seized, dragged before the Prefect of Rome and cast into jail. There he cured the keeper's daughter of blindness. When the cruel emperor learned of this miracle he gave orders that Valentine should be beheaded. The morning of the execution, he is said to have sent the keeper's daughter a farewell message signed, "From your Valentine."

After Christianity was firmly established the priests wanted the people to forget the old heathen gods. But they did not wish to do away with all their feasts and sports. So they kept the Lupercalia and called it Valentine's Day.


During the medieval days of chivalry, the names of English maidens and bachelors were put into the box and drawn out in pairs. Each couple exchanged gifts. The girl became the man's valentine for that year. On his sleeve he wore her name and it was his bounded duty to attend and protect her.

This old, old custom of drawing names on the fourteenth of February was considered a good omen for love. It often foretold a wedding. For since the beginning of things this has been lovers' day, a time for loving, for giving and receiving love tokens.


History tells us the first modern valentines date from the early years of the fifteenth century. The young French Duke of Orleans, captured at the battle of Agincourt, was kept a prisoner in the Tower of London for many years. He wrote poem after poem to his wife, real valentines. About sixty of them remain. These can be seen among the royal papers in the British Museum.

Flowers as valentines appear nearly two hundred years later. A daughter of Henry IV of France gave a party in honor of St Valentine. Each lady received a beautiful bouquet of flowers from the man chosen as her valentine.

So from Italy, France and England came the pretty custom of sending our friends loving messages on this day. With flowers, with heart-shaped candies, and with valentine cards we honour the good priest who disobeyed Claudius the Cruel.


By the 17th century, handmade cards were oversized and elaborate, while store-bought ones were smaller and costly.

But printers were already beginning to produce a limited number of cards with verses and sketches.

The real revolution came in the early 19th century with a reduction in postal rates. This helped to establish the custom of sending anonymous messages or cards to those one admired.

The United States Post Office in Loveland, Colorado, USA, creates a special and one-of-a-kind cancellation stamp every year in order to celebrate Valentine's Day and the romantic name of Loveland, Colorado. The Post Office is now averaging greater than 300,000 Valentines remailed annually including 104 foreign countries and all 50 United States. The cancellation stamp sample shown here is from 1995.
Every February, across the country, candy, flowers, and gifts are exchanged between loved ones, all in the name of St. Valentine. But who is this mysterious saint and why do we celebrate this holiday? The history of Valentine's Day — and its patron saint — is shrouded in mystery. But we do know that February has long been a month of romance. St. Valentine's Day, as we know it today, contains vestiges of both Christian and ancient Roman tradition. So, who was Saint Valentine and how did he become associated with this ancient rite? Today, the Catholic Church recognizes at least three different saints named Valentine or Valentinus, all of whom were martyred.

One legend contends that Valentine was a priest who served during the third century in Rome. When Emperor Claudius II decided that single men made better soldiers than those with wives and families, he outlawed marriage for young men — his crop of potential soldiers. Valentine, realizing the injustice of the decree, defied Claudius and continued to perform marriages for young lovers in secret. When Valentine's actions were discovered, Claudius ordered that he be put to death.

Other stories suggest that Valentine may have been killed for attempting to help Christians escape harsh Roman prisons where they were often beaten and tortured.

According to one legend, Valentine actually sent the first 'valentine' greeting himself. While in prison, it is believed that Valentine fell in love with a young girl — who may have been his jailor's daughter — who visited him during his confinement. Before his death, it is alleged that he wrote her a letter, which he signed 'From your Valentine,' an expression that is still in use today. Although the truth behind the Valentine legends is murky, the stories certainly emphasize his appeal as a sympathetic, heroic, and, most importantly, romantic figure. It's no surprise that by the Middle Ages, Valentine was one of the most popular saints in England and France.

While some believe that Valentine's Day is celebrated in the middle of February to commemorate the anniversary of Valentine's death or burial — which probably occurred around 270 A.D — others claim that the Christian church may have decided to celebrate Valentine's feast day in the middle of February in an effort to 'christianize' celebrations of the pagan Lupercalia festival. In ancient Rome, February was the official beginning of spring and was considered a time for purification. Houses were ritually cleansed by sweeping them out and then sprinkling salt and a type of wheat called spelt throughout their interiors. Lupercalia, which began at the ides of February, February 15, was a fertility festival dedicated to Faunus, the Roman god of agriculture, as well as to the Roman founders Romulus and Remus.

To begin the festival, members of the Luperci, an order of Roman priests, would gather at the sacred cave where the infants Romulus and Remus, the founders of Rome, were believed to have been cared for by a she-wolf or lupa. The priests would then sacrifice a goat, for fertility, and a dog, for purification.

The boys then sliced the goat's hide into strips, dipped them in the sacrificial blood and took to the streets, gently slapping both women and fields of crops with the goathide strips. Far from being fearful, Roman women welcomed being touched with the hides because it was believed the strips would make them more fertile in the coming year. Later in the day, according to legend, all the young women in the city would place their names in a big urn. The city's bachelors would then each choose a name out of the urn and become paired for the year with his chosen woman. These matches often ended in marriage. Pope Gelasius declared February 14 St. Valentine's Day around 498 A.D. The Roman 'lottery' system for romantic pairing was deemed un-Christian and outlawed. Later, during the Middle Ages, it was commonly believed in France and England that February 14 was the beginning of birds' mating season, which added to the idea that the middle of February — Valentine's Day — should be a day for romance. The oldest known valentine still in existence today was a poem written by Charles, Duke of Orleans to his wife while he was imprisoned in the Tower of London following his capture at the Battle of Agincourt. The greeting, which was written in 1415, is part of the manuscript collection of the British Library in London, England. Several years later, it is believed that King Henry V hired a writer named John Lydgate to compose a valentine note to Catherine of Valois.

In Great Britain, Valentine's Day began to be popularly celebrated around the seventeenth century. By the middle of the eighteenth century, it was common for friends and lovers in all social classes to exchange small tokens of affection or handwritten notes. By the end of the century, printed cards began to replace written letters due to improvements in printing technology. Ready-made cards were an easy way for people to express their emotions in a time when direct expression of one's feelings was discouraged. Cheaper postage rates also contributed to an increase in the popularity of sending Valentine's Day greetings. Americans probably began exchanging hand-made valentines in the early 1700s. In the 1840s, Esther A. Howland began to sell the first mass-produced valentines in America.

According to the Greeting Card Association, an estimated one billion valentine cards are sent each year, making Valentine's Day the second largest card-sending holiday of the year. (An estimated 2.6 billion cards are sent for Christmas.)

Approximately 85 percent of all valentines are purchased by women. In addition to the United States, Valentine's Day is celebrated in Canada, Mexico, the United Kingdom, France, and Australia.

Valentine greetings were popular as far back as the Middle Ages (written Valentine's didn't begin to appear until after 1400), and the oldest known Valentine card is on display at the British Museum. The first commercial Valentine's Day greeting cards produced in the U.S. were created in the 1840s by Esther A. Howland. Howland, known as the Mother of the Valentine, made elaborate creations with real lace, ribbons and colorful pictures known as "scrap".

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