Valentine’s Day, a day centered on showering your loved one with candies, flowers, cheesy Hallmark cards with affirmations of love, wasn’t always a celebration of love. Although historians can’t be certain of its exact origins, there are several prevailing theories.
Every year, around mid-February, the Roman’s would celebrate the festival of Lupercalia. A festival centered around the beginning of spring, as well as fertility rights and the pairing off of men and women by lottery. By around the end of the 5th century, Pape Gelasius I replaced the celebration of Lupercalia with St. Valentine’s Day. While at first this may seem unusual, it is important to note that the Catholic Church has a history if rebranding traditional pagan holidays as Christian ones, for example: New Year’s Day, Mardi Gras, and Halloween to name a few.
However, there were several saints named Valentine, who were martyred around the third century, certainly had some influence on today’s commercial holiday if only in name alone. Little is known about the early St. Valentines, according to NPR it was common for saints to only leave a name and a day of death, thus making it difficult to know much more about them, their lives, or possible martyrdom.
The earliest Valentinus on record is supposed to have died in Africa, and that is all that is known. There are two other Valentinus’s whose martyrdoms are more widely known, one a Roman priest and the other a Bishop of Terni. Both died in similar ways, decapitated by the Roman Emperor after they supposedly miraculously healed a potential convert. The Smithsonian states that it is more than likely there weren’t two separate Valentinus’, but instead one whose rumored martyrdom spread through different areas of Italy inspiring different stories.
It wasn’t until the 14th century that Valentine’s Day became synonymous as a day for spreading and sharing love, for its early origins certainly had nothing to do with such positive affirmations. Thanks to the works of Shakespeare and Chaucer, whom both romanticized the holiday in their writings, Valentine’s Day became a popular holiday through the Middle Ages. It was often common, even back then, to exchange hand written cards.
Eventually, the popularity of the holiday spread to the America’s, but it wasn’t until 1913 that the Hallmark Company began mass producing Valentine’s Day cards. From this point forward, we haven’t looked back.
For more information about the holiday’s origins, please see the below sources of information used in this article.
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