The Story of Valentine's Day

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Most people seem to be of the opinion that Valentine’s Day was invented by those who sell cards, flowers, and candy, as an inventive way to hawk their wares. In truth, greeting card companies have claimed that easily a quarter of their annual revenue comes from the sale of Valentine’s Day cards and when you think about it, anyone who doesn’t at least make a token effort to express the sentiment of love on this holiday is going to find himself in the doghouse come February 15th. But while it’s certainly true that card retailers have hijacked this holiday aimed at our hearts, it actually does have a lot of history to back it up.

You’ve probably heard of St. Valentine, but you doubtless have no idea how he became a saint or why his name became synonymous with a holiday that revolves around the notion of romantic love and the expression of such feelings. The most commonly agreed upon story involves a Catholic bishop by the name of Valentine who lived and operated in Rome during the time of Claudius II (the latter half of the 3rd century A.D.). At that time, Claudius had put a stop to marriage for soldiers in his army because he felt that having a family would make them weak and he wanted his forces operating at the top of their game (in order to fight off attackers on multiple fronts).

The soldiers, understandably, did not necessarily agree with this, and many of them decided to marry despite the emperor’s edict expressly banning such action. It soon became known that Valentine was on the side of the soldiers and he went about marrying them in secret. But it wasn’t long before Claudius got wise to the scenario and threw Valentine in the clink. He probably would have gotten out eventually except that he tried to convert Claudius to Christianity (not a good move), or perhaps he just refused to renounce his own faith. In any case Claudius, enraged, ordered his execution. It is rumored that just before it was carried out, he sent one last note to a “friend” and it ended with the line “From Your Valentine”, which was later copied by young Roman lovers as a sort of homage.

So how did Valentine’s Day come about? There are a couple of versions of this story. The first is that Valentine was executed on February 14th, and later sainted on the same date, thus creating the holiday by which those in love celebrate his sacrifice on their behalf by the giving of “valentines”, so named for the patron saint of love. Of course, it may just be coincidence that the date falls during the Roman festival of Lupercalia, a fertility rite (that could reasonably be associated with love…or at least coupling). The Christian church was fond of finding ways to fold local traditions into its own dogma as a way to induct new members.

The holiday gained popularity throughout the middle ages, culminating in its peak during the Victorian era, when many of the current trends for the holiday emerged, including cards embellished with hearts, lace, poetry, and cherubs, as well as the giving of candy and flowers. So while it has definitely morphed into a smörgåsbord of consumer spending, the sentiment behind the holiday has a real basis in history, one that you might like to share with your loved one this February 14th, after presenting her with a card from her “Valentine”.

Kyle Simpson writes for Ryson which specializes in bucket elevator conveyors and incline screw conveyor systems to help reduce your business operation costs.

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