The number and variety of stories and tales concerning the origin of Valentine’s Day will make your head spin. Some say it began as a feast or festival in ancient Rome. Others say it’s based on one or more early Christian martyrs named Valentine. The idea of romantic love being associated with Valentines Day came much later. possibly from Chaucer in the era of courtly love. Here are a few of the more interesting tales.
An ancient pre-Roman festival, Lupercalia, was celebrated every year to honor Lupercus, a god of fertility. It was celebrated sometime between February 13-15 near the city of Rome. Originally a festival of shipyards, it lasted until the 5th century when Pope Gelasius abolished it. Another story concerns the reign of Emperor Claudius II. This Emperor needed soldiers to fight wars and believed men failed to join his army because they didn’t want to leave their wives and families. So Claudius outlawed marriages and engagements. A priest named Valentine continued to marry couples. Valentine was discovered and put to death. Afterwards he was named a Saint. The oldest valentine still in existence is housed in the manuscript collection in the British Library in London England.
It was written by Charles, the Duke of Orleans to his wife. He had been captured at the Battle of Agincourt and was being held in the Tower of London. In South America, customs vary. Brazil has Boyfriends/Girlfriends day on June 12th when gifts, flowers, cards and chocolates are exchanged. In Guatemala and through out much of South America February 14th is Love and Friendship day and quite popular. Similar to our version of Valentines Day, many people also offer acts of appreciation for friend. Valentine traditions in Denmark and Norway are less commercial and more personal than in the West. Valentine’s Day is called Valentinsdag and is still celebrated on Feb 14th. Traditions include having a romantic dinner or sending a rose or a card to a loved one.
Valentine’s Day in Iran is still celebrated in spite of some government restrictions. The celebration is called Sepandarmazgan and is celebrated on February 17th. The tradition is becoming more common among younger Iranian girls and boys. Valentine’s Day cards were first mass produced in Worchester, Massachusetts. Esther Howland, daughter of the owner of a book and stationary store was inspired by an English valentine she received. The popularity of St. Valentine’s Day increased rapidly shortly thereafter. Valentine’s Day traditions in Western culture call for expressions of love symbolized by cards and gifts. The older tradition of giving Valentines Day cards has been slowly expanded to gifts of all kinds over the past several decades. Traditional gifts include flowers, especially roses, and chocolates, often in a heart-shaped box.