Tag Archives: Middle Ages

The Dark Origin of Valentine’s Day

6 Feb

Whether taken or single, you are probably glad that Valentine’s Day or SAD (Single Awareness Day) is over. It’s a day filled with anxiety for many and disappointment for most. So where did the holiday come from?  The day is often referred to as a “Hallmark holiday”, one created by Hallmark to boost card sales. 150 million Valentine’s Day cards are sent annually, making it the second most popular card holiday behind Christmas. Not surprisingly, women account for 85 percent of all valentines purchased. It’s the holiday associated with love and all that mushy stuff but the day has much darker origins than Hallmark.

Lupercalia was a Roman celebration from Feb. 13 to 15; men would slaughter a goat, for fertility, and a dog, for purification. The men would then whip the women with the hides of the slain animal, in act embraced by the Roman women because it was believed to bring fertility in the coming year. During Lupercalia a matchmaking lottery would take place in which the men would draw the names of women from a jar. The matched up couples would be ‘paired’ for the remainder of the year, often ending in marriage.

St. Valentine is the patron saint of Valentine’s Day, shrouded in Christian and ancient Roman tradition. The story of St. Valentine is quite sketchy. One legend claims that Valentine was a priest during the third century in Rome. Emperor Claudius II decided that single men were better soldiers than married men with families so he outlawed the marriage of young men. Valentine, outraged by this injustice, continued to perform marriages for young love birds in secrecy. Claudius discovered the secret marriages and ordered Valentine to be put to death.

Other stories of St. Valentine claim that he was killed for helping Christians escape from unforgiving Roman prisons. According to one legend, while Valentine was imprisoned he sent the first “valentine” to a girl he fell in love with, allegedly she was the jailor’s daughter who would visit Valentine. Before he was put to death, Valentine wrote the young girl a letter signed “From your Valentine,” an expression that is commonly used on February 14.

At the end of the 5th century, Pope Gelasius deemed Lupercalia “un-Christian” and declared February 14 St. Valentine’s Day. Lupercalia was still acted out by the Romans but without the pagan rituals. The festival was toned down, no more sacrifices but a lot of drinking. The day continued to be about fertility and love. In France and England during the Middle Ages it was believed that February 14 was the beginning of the mating season for birds, which added more of the romantic feeling to the day. Hence, ‘love birds’.

Americans exchanged hand-made valentines dating back to the early 1700s. In the 1840s, Esther A. Howland (“Mother of the Valentine”) created and sold the first mass-produced valentines. Esther used lace, ribbons and colorful pictures to decorate the cards. It wasn’t until the second half of the 20thcentury that Valentine’s Day gifts were extended to roses and chocolates. And lastly, in the 1980s the diamond industry saw gold in Valentine’s Day and began promoting and advertising the day as an occasion for jewelry.

The average consumer will spend $116.21 this year on traditional Valentine’s Day merchandise