Every February 14th, candy, flowers, and gifts are exchanged between loved ones, all in the name of St. Valentine.
Who was St. Valentine and why do we celebrate this holiday? The history of Valentine’s Day is shrouded in mystery.
February has long been a month of romance. St. Valentine’s Day, as we know it today, contains elements of both the Christian and the ancient Roman traditions.
One legend claims that Valentine actually sent the first ‘valentine’ greeting himself. While in prison, it is believed that Valentine fell in love with a young girl, who visited him during his confinement. Before his death, it is alleged that he wrote her a letter, which he signed ‘From your Valentine,’ an expression that is still in use today.
The stories about Valentine emphasize his appeal as a sympathetic, heroic, and romantic figure. By the Middle Ages, Valentine was one of the most popular saints in England and France.
In the seventeenth century, Valentine’s Day began to be celebrated in Great Britain. By the middle of the eighteenth century, it was common for friends and lovers to exchange small tokens of affection or handwritten notes. By the end of the century, printed cards began to replace written letters due to improvements in printing technology.
Ready-made cards were an easy way for people to express their emotions in a time when direct expression of one’s feelings was discouraged. Cheaper postage rates also contributed to an increase in the popularity of sending Valentine’s Day greetings.
Americans began exchanging hand-made valentines in the early 1700s. In the 1840s, Esther A. Howland began to sell the first mass-produced valentines in America. Howland became known as the Mother of the Valentine and made elaborate creations with real lace, ribbons and colorful pictures known as “scrap”.
According to the Greeting Card Association, an estimated one billion valentine cards are sent each year, making Valentine’s Day the second largest card-sending holiday of the year. Approximately 85 percent of all valentines are purchased by women.
In addition to the United States, Valentine’s Day is celebrated in Canada, Mexico, the United Kingdom, France, and Australia.