A Not So Lovely Valentine

By Meagan Ozuna

Teddy bears, chocolates, and flowers equal Valentine’s Day. But what’s unknown to most is how the holiday began or legends behind the day – it’s more than buying gifts to express feelings to a loved one. According to the History Channel, there’s many legends of St. Valentine and the creation of this holiday, of course. No one knows who he is; he varies from a priest to a savior and to a prisoner.

In third century Rome, the Emperor decided single men made better soldiers than men that had wives and children. Marriage for young men was outlawed, which led to Valentine to defy the Emperor and perform marriages for the young people in secret. Valentine was soon discovered and put to death.

Another supposed legend by the History Channel is that Valentine’s story ended the same way with him being put to death. In this story, Valentine was killed trying to help Christians escape the Roman prisons. Because the prisoners were beaten and tortured by Romans, Valentine felt the need to save them.

In the last legend, while Valentine was imprisoned he sent the first “Valentine” greeting after he had fallen in love with a girl. She visited him constantly during his confinement; before dying he wrote her a letter that was signed, “From your Valentine.” Though these legends are murky in whether or not they’re true, they all emphasize Valentine’s appeal as a sympathetic, heroic, romantic figure.

Aside from the story behind Valentine, there is the belief that Valentine’s Day was created in the middle of February in order to celebrate the anniversary of his death. Others believe the Christian church decided this day to “Christianize” the celebration of Lupercalia which celebrates the idea of February and a fertility festival dedicated to Roman God of Agriculture. This festival was held by Roman priests who sacrificed a goat (fertility) stripping the goats hide, dipping it into sacrificial blood. They would then take to streets of Rome slapping both women and crop fields with the goat hide. This was welcomed by the women believing that this made them more fertile within the coming year. Later during this festival, young women placed their names in an urn where the city’s bachelors chose a name being paired for the year with their chosen name. These matches often ended in marriage, and these practices during this festival were thought to be romantic.

Lupercalia was soon outlawed, after being deemed, “un-Christian.” Pope Gelasius declared February 14 would be St. Valentine’s Day. Later in the middle ages, France and England believed this day was the beginning of birds’ mating season, bringing the idea of love. Years later, this day definitively became associated with love. Ideas of love led to written Valentine’s; the oldest Valentine written dates back to 1415 by Charles, Duke of Orleans to his wife while imprisoned. It is believed King Henry V hired a writer to compose a Valentine to Catherine of Valois.

Valentine’s Day soon spread to Canada, Mexico, United Kingdom, France, and Australia; but it was popular in Great Britain during the 17th century. In the middle of the 18th century, it became more and more common for friends or lovers of all social classes to exchange small tokens of affection or handwritten notes with each other. Between the 1700s and 1840s, hand-made Valentines were exchanged but by the 1900s, printed cards replaced written letters due to improvement of printing technologies, leading to ready-made cards. It became easier to express one’s emotions when direct expression was discouraged; another reason contributing to the popularity was cheaper postage rates.

In America, the first mass-produced Valentines were made by Esther A. Howland, the “Mother of Valentine.” These Valentines were elaborate creations made with real lace, ribbons, and colorful pictures. Today, one billion cards are now sent each year, making Valentine’s Day the second largest card sending holiday of the year. It is now believed this is just a holiday made by corporations in order to get you to buy things. Some believe that you shouldn’t express your love on this one day, you should express your love every single day to your loved ones. For more information on this day, check out the History Channel.

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