Each year, as February 14th nears, everyone begins hanging decorative garden flags, sending valentine cards and making plans with the special someone in their life. While some sarcastically quip that the holiday was created by the greeting card and chocolate industries to generate revenue, this is patently untrue.
he origins of Valentine’s Day can be found in the ancient Roman festival Lupercalia which was always held in mid-February each year. The festival celebrated the coming spring season. They also believed that this was the time of year for birds to mate. This is the reason flowers and birds are generally incorporated into the imagery used for modern cards and decorations. In celebrating spring as a season of renewal and new birth, the Romans held fertility rites. The festival also included an event that paired women with men through a lottery.
In the 5th century, the festival was replaced with St. Valentine’s Day by Pope Gelasius. By the 15th century, St. Valentine’s Day was focused on romance and love. There is some debate as to who St. Valentine was. One legend said that he was a priest who defied an imperial edict that cancelled all marriages. It is said that he continued to marry young lovers who sought out his help. When this was discovered, he was put to death on February 14. Another tale tells of Valentine while he was in prison. He had fallen in love with the daughter of the jailer and sent a farewell letter to her before his execution. He signed the letter “From your Valentine.” This story struck the hearts of romantics and remains popular today.
Formal valentine cards and letters have been seen since the 1500s. Commercial production of Valentine’s Day cards began in the late 1700s. In the US, cards began to be commercially produced by the mid-1800s.
So while today, it may seem like a commercial holiday sometimes, Valentine’s Day has deep roots in ancient history. You only have to look for the cupid on your decorative garden flag or Valentine’s day card this year and you will be looking at the ancient Roman god of love.