Valentine's Day

Good Morrow! ‘Tis St. Valentine’s Day.
All in the morning betime,
Am I a maid at your window,
To be your Valentine.

-- William Shakespeare, from Hamlet

Valentine's Day is celebrated primarily in the United States, Canada, Mexico, the United Kingdom, France, and Australia.

It was said to have originated in the 3rd century when Emperor Claudius banned marriages in an effort to produce single men for his army. A priest named Valentine defied the decree and married people in secret. Claudius sentenced Valentine to be executed for doing this and while in prison the daughter of the jailer used to visit him. On the day of his execution he sent her a letter expressing love and gratitude for her support and friendship. That letter ended in the phase: From your Valentine.

Around 500 A.D. Valentine was elevated to rank of Saint and the Pope set Feburary 14th as his day.

As it turns out the festival of Lupercalia, which deals with fertility and a celebration of sensual pleasure, falls only a day after the execution of Valentine on February 15th. During this festival, boys would draw the names of girls and would then pair up for the festivities. The name Valentine somehow became linked to this romantic festival.

While Cupid has nothing officially to do with Valentine’s Day he is the son of Venus, the goddess of love and beauty, thus people started to incorporate the winged bowman who shoots love arrows into the hearts of people.

So, while St. Valentine’s Day actually has a formally religious significance to the Catholic Christians, the concept of Cupid and drawing names of boys and girls to pair them up actually comes from pagan or non-Christian beliefs! Some felt that Roman Catholics encourage celebration of Valentine’s day to turn these pagan rituals into a more Christian celebration of love.

The first formal letter of love sent on Valentine’s day after the execution of the priest came in 1415 from Charles, duke of Orleans, who was captured during a war between France and England and sent to the London tower as a prisoner. He sent his wife a letter of love on February 14th.

By the year 1700 Valentine’s Day was very popular, and finding a mate had many rituals:

Drawing names was quite popular. Girls would write names of boys on pieces of paper and would roll them in clay and drop them in a bowl of water. The first one that appeared was their true love.

Unmarried women would use charms, like pinning bay leaves to their pillows on the eve of Valentine’s Day and if the charm worked they would see their future husbands in their dreams.

European boys would send pressed white flowers with a rhyming letter. Instead of signing their name, they would place one dot for each letter of their name. If the girl guessed his name she would receive an Easter egg at Easter.

In Britain and Italy, girls would get up at sunrise and wait at a window. The first guy she saw they would marry within a year.

The first Valentine’s were hand made or handwritten and exchanged largely in the U.S. and England by boy and girls in love.

The first commercially printed Valentines appeared around 1800, with Esther Howland producing them in America around 1840 and sold $5,000 cards during her first year in business. Today over 1 billion cards are sold world-wide, making Valentine’s day second only to Christmas for the greeting card industry.

Since chocolate is said to be an aphrodisiac (indeed it has some properties that help to produce euphoric chemicals in our brain) and was once a treat men didn't allow women to enjoy because of the sexual powers it contained. It is possible the tradition of sending a woman chocolates stems from this old belief that feeding women the demon chocolate aphrodisiac could drive them into a wild frenzy!

-- Contributing to this piece was Christine K. Rex


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