St. Valentine’s Day, as we know it today, includes remnants of both Christian and ancient Roman tradition. Have you ever wondered about who Saint Valentine was, or how he started this romantic ritual? One legend tells us that Valentine was a priest who lived in Rome during the third century. Roman Emperor Claudius II had just outlawed marriage, because he believed that single men made better soldiers than those with families. Saint Valentine continued to perform marriages for young lovers in secret. When Claudius found out about this, he had Valentine killed.
Other stories tell us that Valentine may have been killed for helping Christians escape horrific Roman prisons, where the inmates were often beaten and tortured. Some people believe that St. Valentine fell in love with a young girl (who came to visit him in jail) and that he sent the first “valentine” greeting to her that he signed “From your Valentine”. Although the details of each folktale vary, the main idea or theme is that St. Valentine was a hero that expressed sympathy with commoners and that he considered romance an important part of life. By medieval times (approximately from the 6th century), St. Valentine was one of the most admired saints in England and France.
Why do we Celebrate Valentine’s Day in February?
Some historians believe that Valentine’s Day is celebrated in the middle of February to commemorate the anniversary of Valentine’s death or burial (which probably occurred around A.D. 270). Others claim that the church wanted to replace the obscure Lupercalia activities (also occurring in mid-February). Lupercalia was a fertility festival that involved stripping goat hides, dipping them into blood, and then slapping noble men and women with the goat hides. (At that time, people thought that this ritual would make them more fertile in the coming year.) At the end of the 5th century, Pope Gelasius declared February 14 St. Valentine’s Day, in order to replace the observance of Lupercalia.
Originally observed only in the English royal families and the nobility, Valentine’s Day was celebrated by the masses around the 17th century. People from all social classes universally exchanged small tokens of affection or handwritten notes. Ready-made cards became available due to the improvements in the printing industry and technology. The first mass-produced valentines in America were sold by Esther Howland in the 1840s. Known as the “Mother of the Valentine,” Mrs. Howland created sophisticated cards with real lace, ribbons and colorful pictures known as “scrap.” Valentine’s Day is now celebrated in the U.S.A., Canada, Mexico, England, France and Australia.
Giving Candy for Valentine’s Day
Around the turn of the century, many new candy-makers sought to make the most of Valentine’s Day. They took heart-shaped satin boxes and filled them with chocolates and candy roses. At first, only wealthy people could afford to buy these gifts. Then, in 1895, new production methods drastically reduced the cost of chocolate manufacturing, allowing Milton S. Hershey to make his chocolates affordable for everyone!
Although chocolate is still the number one favorite candy purchased for Valentine’s Day, other popular candies include the tiny pastel candy hearts inscribed with romantic messages (commonly called “conversation hearts”), gummy bears (or gummy hearts), coated candy hearts, and heart-shaped lollipops.