St. Valentine's Day falls on February 14, and is the traditional day on which lovers in certain cultures let each other know about their love, commonly by sending Valentine's cards, which are often anonymous. The history of Valentine's day can be traced back to an obscure Catholic Church feast day, said to be in honor of Saint Valentine, are discussed below. The day's associations with romantic love arrived after the High Middle Ages, during which the concept of romantic love was formulated.
The day is now most closely associated with the mutual exchange of love notes in the form of "valentines." Modern Valentine symbols include the heart-shaped outline and the figure of the winged Cupid. Since the 19th century, the practice of hand writing notes has largely given way to the exchange of mass-produced greeting cards. The Greeting Card Association estimates that, world-wide, approximately one billion valentine cards are sent each year, making the day the second largest card-sending holiday of the year behind Christmas. The association also estimates that women purchase approximately 85 percent of all valentines.
History of Valentine's Day
February fertility festivals
The association of the middle of February with love and fertility dates to ancient times. In the calendar of Ancient Athens, the period between mid January and mid February was the month of Gamelion, which was dedicated to the sacred marriage of Zeus and Hera.
In Ancient Rome, the day of February 15 was Lupercalia, the festival of Lupercus, the god of fertility, who was represented as half-naked and dressed in goat skins. As part of the purification ritual, the priests of Lupercus would sacrifice goats to the god, and after drinking wine, they would run through the streets of Rome holding pieces of the goat skin above their heads, touching anyone they met. Young women especially would come forth voluntarily for the occasion, in the belief that being so touched would render them fruitful and bring easy childbirth.
According to the Catholic Encyclopedia (1908), at least three different Saints Valentine, all of them martyrs and all quite obscure, are mentioned in the early martyrologies under the date of February 14:
- a priest in Rome who suffered martyrdom in the second half of the 3rd century and was buried on the Via Flaminia.
- a bishop of Interamna (modern Terni) also suffered martyrdom in the second half of the 3rd century and was also buried on the Via Flaminia, but in a different location than the priest.
- a martyr in North Africa, about whom little else is known.
The connection between St. Valentine and romantic love is not mentioned in any early histories and is regarded by historians as purely a matter of legend (see below). The feast of St. Valentine was first declared to be on February 14 by Pope Gelasius I in 496. There is a widespread legend that he created the day to counter the practice held on Lupercalia of young men and women pairing off as lovers by drawing their names out of an urn, but this practice is not attested in any sources from that era.
In the 19th century, relics of St. Valentine were donated by Pope Gregory XVI to the Whitefriar Street Carmelite Church in Dublin, Ireland, which has become a popular place of pilgrimage on February 14.
In 1969, as part of a larger effort to pare down the number of saint days of purely legendary origin, the Church removed St. Valentine's Day as an official holiday from its calendar.
The influential Gnostic teacher Valentinius was a candidate for Bishop of Rome in 143. In his teachings, the marriage bed assumed a central place in his version of Christian love, an emphasis sharply in contrast with the asceticism of mainstream Christianity. Stephan A. Hoeller assesses Valentinius on the subject : "In addition to baptism, anointing, eucharist, the initiation of priests and the rites of the dying, the Valentinian Gnosis mentions prominently two great and mysterious sacraments called "redemption" (apolytrosis) and "bridal chamber" respectively" .
The first recorded association of St. Valentine's Day with romantic love was in the 14th century in England and France, where February 14 was traditionally the day on which birds paired off to mate. This belief is mentioned in Geoffrey Chaucer's Parlement of Foules (1381) that
- for this was on seynt Volantynys day
- Whan euery bryd comyth there to chese his mate.
In the following century, one of John Lydgate's minor poems is "A balade made..in wyse of chesing loues at Saint Valentynes day" which indicates that the manner of choosing was drawing lots. By the 17th century a valentine was extended to the gift given, some pretty token.
It was common during that era for lovers to exchange notes on this day and to call each other their "Valentines". A 14th century valentine is said to be in the collection of the British Library. It is probable that many of the legends about St. Valentine were invented during this period. Among the legends are ones that assert that:
- On the evening before St. Valentine was to be martyred for being a Christian, he passed a love note to his jailer's daughter which read, "From Your Valentine."
- During a ban on marriages of Roman soldiers by the Emperor Claudius II, St. Valentine secretly helped arrange marriages.
In most versions of these legends, February 14 is the date associated with his martyrdom.
Valentine's Day in the USA
Valentine's Day was probably imported into North America in the 19th century with settlers from Britain. In the United States, the first mass-produced valentines of embossed paper lace were produced and sold shortly after 1847 by Esther Howland (1828 – 1904) of Worcester, Massachusetts. Her father operated a large book and stationery store, and she took her inspiration from an English valentine she had received. (Since 2001, the Greeting Card Association has been giving an annual "Esther Howland Award for a Greeting Card Visionary".)
In the United States in the second half of the 20th century, the practice of exchanging cards was extended to include the giving of all manner of gifts, usually from a man to a woman. Such gifts typically include roses and chocolates. Starting in the 1980s, the diamond industry began to promote Valentine's Day as an occasion for giving fine jewelry.
The day has come to be associated with a generic platonic greeting of "Happy Valentine's Day."
Valentine's Day in Other Cultures
In Japan and Korea, Valentine's Day has emerged, thanks to a concentrated marketing effort, as a day on which women give candy to men they like. Rather than being voluntary however, this has become for many women – especially those who work in offices – an obligation, and they give chocolates to all their male co-workers, sometimes at significant personal expense. This chocolate is known as giri-choco (義理チョコ), in Japan, from the words giri (obligation) and choco, a common short version of chokorehto (チョコレート), meaning chocolate.
By a further marketing effort, a reciprocal day, called White Day has emerged. On this day (March 14), men are supposed to return the favour by giving something to those who gave them chocolates on Valentine's Day. Many men, however, give only to their girlfriends. Originally the return gift was supposed to be white chocolate or marshmallows (hence the name "White Day"). However, more recently men have taken the name to a different meaning, thus lingerie is quite a common gift.
In Korea, there is also an additional Black Day, held on April 14, when males who did not receive anything for Valentine's Day gather together to eat Jajangmyun (Chinese-style noodles in black sauce).
In Chinese Culture, there is a similar counterpart of the Valentine's Day. It is called "The Night of Sevens", on the 7th day of the 7th month of the lunar calendar; the last one being August 11, 2005 . (A slightly different version of this day is celebrated in Japan as Tanabata, on July 7th (the same day, but transcribed to the solar calendar)).
In Brazil, there is no such day as Valentine's Day. Instead, on June 12, "Dia dos Namorados" (lit. "Day of the enamored", or "Boyfriend's/Girlfriend's Day") is celebrated. On this day, boyfriends and girlfriends, husbands and wives, exchange gifts (lingerie, chocolates, and more), cards and usually a flower bouquet. This day is chosen probably because it is one day before the Saint Anthony's day, there known as the marriage saint, when many single women perform popular rituals in order to find a good husband (or, more modernly at least a boyfriend).