“To-morrow is Saint Valentine’s day; All in the morning bedtime; And I a maid at your window, To be your Valentine.” – William Shakespeare, Hamlet Act 4, Scene 5
William Shakespeare evoked love and devotion in many of his works, and we celebrate love and adoration during the month of February. With Valentine’s Day rapidly approaching, have you ever really thought about how this special day to honor love came about?
There have been conspiracy theories claiming the holiday was thought up by greeting cards or candy companies just to make a few sales, but that’s such a cynical view to take. Lately, the holiday isn’t always seen through rose-colored glasses by many, especially by those who don’t have a special sweetheart with which to celebrate the day. But before you form your judgment on this day that really should cause anyone to shake off the winter blues from the chilly month of February, maybe a little investigation into the origins of Valentine’s Day might be of assistance. So, let’s delve into a short history lesson on how Valentine’s Day came about.
With backgrounds in Christian and ancient Roman traditions, the history of Valentine’s Day — its origins and tradition — is often shrouded in mystery. Just exactly who was St. Valentine, the patron saint who is acknowledged for bringing about this special day of love to February? One theory is that in Rome during the third century, Emperor Claudius II decreed that soldiers were better and more focused if they remained single, and he outlawed marriage. A priest named Valentine did not agree with this adage and performed secret marriages for young lovers.
Other theories speculate that another brave soul who shared the name of Valentine was condemned because he tried to help Christians escape the tortuous beatings they received in Roman prisons. Legend holds that the first “Valentine” was actually sent by Valentine to a young jailor’s daughter who would visit him. Valentine fell in love with her and sent her a proclamation of love before he was executed, signing the sweet love-filled letter “From your Valentine” thus beginning our tradition of sending valentines today to the ones that we cherish. By the Middle Ages, Valentine arose as a romantic hero and became one of the most popular saints in England and France. It is believed that Valentine met his death in February, and it was designated that a special day during this month would be designated to honor Saint Valentine and the institution of love.
If you’re into conspiracy theories, you might have to form your own opinions from the research that has been done. It’s often speculated that the designation of February 14 as St. Valentine’s Day has its foundation in nature. During the Middle Ages in England and France, the date was commonly considered the beginning of the mating season for birds — hence, it was therefore connected with the idea of love, and the rest as they say is history. But you still might be wondering how the other traditions of this day devoted to love came about.
Valentine greetings professing emotions of love and romance began to appear as early as the early 1400s, but how exactly did that adorable cherub Cupid become associated with this love-filled holiday? Cupid arose in Greek mythology as a stunning immortal who played with all hearts by shooting them with his golden arrows that were sure to spark love. He later was betrayed as the adorable little cherub that graces our Valentines and decorations today.
As early as the middle of the 18th century, lovers and friends began to give tokens of love and affection or handwritten notes as they poured out their true feelings for that special someone. By the 1900s, printed cards soon took the place of handwritten letters of love, and it became a tradition to exchange manufactured cards to express feelings of love. That tradition most definitely continues today, and it is estimated by Hallmark that over 145 million Valentine’s Day cards are sent each year — second only to Christmas in the card delivery department.
While we think of Valentine’s Day as a celebration of love and romance, that wasn’t always the case. Back during the Victorian Era, people certainly used the tradition of sending one’s feelings in the form of a Valentine, but that didn’t necessarily mean the words were filled with images of hearts and kisses. In fact, the Victorians took great delight in sending anonymous notes filled with nasty words of hate and distaste to those that they did not like, which might include undesired suitors and even to friends and family who often had less than attractive qualities. These cards received the appropriate title of “Vinegar Valentines.” Thankfully, those venom-filled valentines fell out of fashion and Valentine’s Day is now associated with much sweeter images and sentiments.
One of the most popular Valentine’s Day gifts is undoubtedly chocolate, and it has its origins dating back to 1861 when the Cadbury Chocolate company devised the first known heart-shaped boxes to hold those sweet chocolates for that sweet one in your life. Roses and favorite flowers soon followed as popular gifts to represent affection. Something sparkly is always a popular gift, but jewelry is not as popular a gift as anticipated as about only 10 percent of loved ones receive a gift dripping in diamonds and gold. But there is an amazing caveat to those statistics; a staggering study recently showed that over six million people get engaged on Valentine’s Day each year. It is also a popular day to exchange vows in mass weddings with more married couples sharing Valentine’s Day anniversaries over any other day of the year.
Love is definitely in the air as Valentine’s Day is about to take center stage. Despite a history of its origins shrouded in mystery, Valentine’s Day has stood the test of time and is a special day, despite the doldrums of winter and chilly weather. Continue these beloved traditions with your sweethearts, and may your Valentine’s Day be simply magical.