Feb 08

Valentine’s Day History

Valentine’s Day has a long and interesting history.  No one is really sure why February 14th was picked for this day, but it is known that it’s related to St. Valentine.  The holiday is partially based on the Roman festival of Lupercalis, which was a fertility celebration held on February 15th.  However, as Christianity became more prevalent in Europe, many of these pagan holidays were combined with or transformed into Christian holy days.

It was Pope Gelasius in 496 AD who changed Lupercalia into a Christian feast day and moved it one day forward.  He then declared February 14th to be the feast day of St. Valentine, a man who lived in the 3rd century.  But who was St. Valentine?

He wasn’t one man, that much is sure.  The Catholic Encyclopedia lists three St. Valentines.  One was a bishop in Terni, one was a priest in Rome, and one went on a missionary trip to Africa, where he died.  All three were supposedly martyred on February 14th.  Pope Gelasius most likely intended to honor the Roman priest.  According to some records, he lived around 270 AD in Rome.

There are two different versions of the story of St. Valentine, but they have some things in common.  Roman Emperor Claudius II had prohibited young men from marrying so he could recruit more and more soldiers into his army.  Married men, he believed, were too attached to their families and would be less willing to die for Rome.  Many Roman citizens were shocked at this, especially young couples who were planning to marry.

A number of priests, St. Valentine among them, agreed to hold secret marriage ceremonies.  He would meet he couples in a secret place and perform the ceremony.  However, it wasn’t long before his secret opposition to the emperor got out, and Claudius had him arrested.  When Claudius met him, he was very impressed with Valentine’s dignity.  However, he attempted to convince Valentine to worship the Roman gods, and Valentine refused.  This angered Claudius, who ordered his execution.

Before he died, Valentine wrote a message to his jailor’s daughter, with whom he had become friends.  He signed it “From your Valentine.”  From this line, his name became the term for both a card given on Valentine’s Day and a term for the person giving the card.

During the Middle Ages, Valentine had become one of the most popular saints in France and England.  The traditions of giving gifts and exchanging cards were in full swing by the 18th century.  These cards were all hand-made at this time.  It wasn’t until the 1840s that commercially produced Valentine’s cards were created in the U.S.

Today, the holiday is celebrated around the world.  A full 25% of all cards sent every year are Valentine Day cards!  Do you have a special Valentine this year?  If so, be sure to send him or her a card.

Don’t forget your Valentine flowers in Kansas City, MO.

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