by Clare Rigney–
Few people would say that Valentine’s Day is their favorite holiday. On this hyper-commercialized day, people express love to their significant others by buying things like chocolate or flowers, but how did it become this way?
Some may know of one of Valentine’s Day’s origin stories: according to History.com, a Catholic priest in Rome named Valentine was executed for marrying Christians after Emperor Claudius II made it illegal. However, according to NPR, there are records of two Catholics named Valentine being executed during the third century. The man was executed after helping Christians escape Roman captivity. He allegedly fell in love with his jailer’s daughter and began sending her notes written, ‘From your Valentine.’ However, the records are cryptic and may be describing the same man in both stories.
The Church wanted to honor Valentine (whichever one he was) and had little difficulty picking a day. A violent annual pagan celebration known as Lupercalia, in which men would beat women with animal hides, took place between February 13 and 15. Around the year 496, Emperor Galasius I declared February 14 as Valentine’s Day in order to replace Lupercalia, according to The Telegraph.
So how did a Christian holiday that overwrote a pagan fertility festival become so commercialized? According to History.com, the letters of love related to this holiday that we know as ‘Valentines’ appeared around the year 1400. Before then, people were gifting things to lovers, but it wasn’t common to write them down because of large-scale illiteracy. Writers like Chaucer and Shakespeare then further romanticized the date by mentioning it in their works. In 1847, Esther Howland of Worcester began selling the first mass-produced Valentine’s Day cards in America. Hallmark jumped on this trend in 1913. This day now sees the second most cards of any American holiday besides Christmas, with over one billion cards being sent every year.
Normally overshadowed by front runners like Christmas and the Fourth of July, Valentine’s Day has a connection to Roman emperors and Renaissance enlightenment that creates an, unsurprisingly, violent and romantic history.