When did the Valentine’s Day (Day of Love) frenzy begin? Scholars have two other main theories to explain how February 14 became synonymous with romance.
Roman Feast of Lupercalia
This ancient pagan fertility celebration, which honored Juno, queen of the Roman gods and goddesses and goddess of women and marriage, was held on February 14, the day before the feast began. During festival time, women would write love letters, also known as billets, and leave them in a large urn. The men of Rome would then draw a note from the urn and ardently pursue the woman who wrote the message they had chosen. The young man and woman would become paired for the rest of the year. Couples often ended up marrying.
The Birds and the Bees?
In the Middle Ages, people began to send love letters on Valentine’s Day. Medieval Europeans believed that birds began to mate on February 14, now called The Day of Love.
There’s also some controversy regarding Saint Valentine, for whom the famous day is named. Archaeologists, who unearthed a Roman catacomb and an ancient church dedicated to St. Valentine, are not sure if there was one Valentine or more. Today, the Catholic Church recognizes at least three different saints named Valentine or Valentinus, all of whom were martyred on February 14 — at least two of those in Italy during the 3rd century.
The most popular candidate for St. Valentine was a 3rd century Roman priest. In 260 AD, Roman Emperor Claudius II outlawed marriage for all young men. He believed that single men made better soldiers than married men and he wanted his army to be as strong as possible. A priest at the time, named Valentine, felt that the law was unfair and continued to perform secret marriage ceremonies for young lovers. When Claudius found out, he ordered Valentine’s execution. While in prison waiting for his execution, Valentine fell in love with the young daughter of his jailer. Just before his death (on February 14th), he wrote her a love letter which he signed ‘From your Valentine’, an expression still used today.
In 498 AD Pope Gelasius saw his opportunity to replace the pagan festival with a Christian one. He outlawed Lupercalia and declared 14th February St. Valentine’s Day. So, more than 200 years after Valentine’s death, he became the patron saint of lovers and St. Valentine’s Day became the date on which lovers all over the world send each other declarations of love.
The oldest valentine message, which still exists, is a poem written by Charles, Duke of Orleans, to his wife during his imprisonment in the Tower of London in 1415. The card can be seen today in the British Museum in London.
Esther Howland, the woman who produced the first commercial American valentines in the 1840s, sold then mind-boggling $5,000 in cards during her first year of business. The valentine industry in the US has been booming ever since. Today, over 1 billion valentine cards are sent in this country each year — second in number only to Christmas cards. The happy day is also celebrated in Canada, Mexico, the UK, France and Australia.
Around 85 percent of all valentines are purchased by women. In addition to cards, there are millions of boxes of chocolates and bouquets of roses purchased (mostly by men) for the February 14 holiday.
Other Valentine (Day of Love) Traditions
A variety of interesting Valentine’s Day traditions developed over time. For example, hundreds of years ago in England, children dressed up as adults on Valentine’s Day and went singing holiday verses from door to door. In Wales, wooden love spoons, carved with key, keyhole and heart designs, were given as gifts.
The gift of flowers on Day of Love probably dates to the early 1700s when Charles II of Sweden brought the Persian poetical art called «the language of flowers» to Europe. Throughout the 18th century, floral lexicons were published, allowing secrets to be exchanged with a lily or lilac, and entire conversations to take place in a bouquet of flowers. The more popular the flower, the more traditions and meanings have been associated with it.
The rose, representing love, is probably the only flower with a meaning that is universally understood. The red rose remains the most popular flower bought by men in the US for their sweethearts. In more recent years, people have sent their sweethearts their favorite flowers, rather than automatically opting for roses. Also making the list of valentine favorites are tulips, lilies, daisies and carnations.
Among early valentine gifts were candies, usually chocolates, in heart-shaped boxes. Companies have made high quality chocolate in artistic designs and elegant wrappings a traditional Valentine’s gift.
- When was St. Valentine’s Day (Day of Love) first celebrated?
- In ancient Rome, February marked the beginning of which season?
- Who did people pray to in ancient Rome?
- What is the name of the festival that took place in Rome?
- How did young men choose a partner during the festival?
- Which Roman emperor declared that young men could not marry?
- What was the name of the priest who broke the law?
- What did the emperor do when he heard about the priest’s actions?
- Who did the priest fall in love with?
- On which date did the priest die?
- Who declared 14th February Valentine’s Day?
- Why did he do it?
- Where can you see the oldest existing valentine’s message?
- Who wrote it and who did he write it to?
- Where was he when he wrote it?
associate verb [transitive] if one thing is associated with another, they are connected
barrel noun [count] a large round container with a flat top and bottom, used for storing liquids
break (broke; broken) verb [transitive] to fail to obey a rule or law: Students who break these rules will be punished.
celebrate verb [intransitive or transitive] to do something enjoyable in order to show that an occasion or event is special
ceremony noun [count] a formal public event with special traditions, actions, or words
consider verb [transitive] to have a particular opinion about someone or something:
death noun [count or uncount] the end of someone’s life: Sandra was very close to death.
declaration noun [count or uncount] an important or official statement about something: his declaration of love
execution noun [count or uncount] the act of killing someone as a punishment for a crime
existing adjective used for describing something that exists now, especially when it might soon be changed or replaced
expression noun [count] a word or phrase: He uses childish expressions like ‘easy-peasy’.
feature verb [transitive] if something features a particular person or thing, they are an important part of it
fertility noun [uncount] a woman’s ability to have babies:
imprison verb [transitive] to put someone in a prison, or to keep them in a place that they cannot escape from
imprisonment noun [uncount]
jailer noun [count] someone whose job is to guard the people in a prison so that they do not escape
lottery noun [singular] a situation where everything depends on luck
married adjective a married person has a husband or wife a married woman/man
opportunity noun [count or uncount] a chance to do something, or a situation in which it is easy for you to do something: The trip sounds like a wonderful opportunity.
outlaw verb [transitive] to make something illegal: They signed an agreement outlawing chemical weapons.
pagan adjective relating to any religion that is not one of the main religions of the world
patron saint noun [count] a saint (=a dead holy person) who is believed to protect a particular place, activity, or group of people
pair verb to form a pair, or to make two people form a pair
perform verb [transitive] to complete an action or activity: He’s a surgeon who has performed many heart transplant operations.
poem noun [count] a piece of writing that uses beautiful or unusual language. It is arranged in lines that have a particular beat and often rhyme.
prayer noun [count] something that you say when you speak to God: He said a prayer for their safety.
priest noun [count] someone whose job is to perform religious duties and ceremonies in some Christian churches
purify verb [transitive] to make something clean by removing dirty or harmful substances from it
purification noun [uncount]
replace verb [transitive] to get rid of someone or something and put a new person or thing in their place:
replace something with something: The plan is to replace state funding with private money.
romance noun [uncount] the behaviour that is typical of two people who love each other: She wasn’t in a mood for romance.
single adjective not married, or not in a romantic relationship: Please state whether you are single, married, or divorced.
unfair adjective not fair or reasonable