The Origins of Valentine’s Day: Not Always Candy Hearts
Valentine’s Day has evolved into a time to exchange candy, cards, or other gifts with our loved ones. In the meantime, the original customs, as well as the saint that it was named after, have been practically forgotten, as can be seen simply from Googling the saint’s name, only to find photographs of hearts and roses.
One legend about the beginning of this holiday says that, during the reign of Emperor Claudius II, marriage became forbidden because Claudius believed that a single male served as a better soldier than one who was married or romantically involved.
A priest named Valentine, who completely disagreed with this new law, began to perform secret marriages for couples. Having found this out, Claudius ordered that Valentine be put to death.
Before his execution, Valentine was imprisoned and fell in love with the jailor’s daughter who would visit him at his cell. It is said that he sent the first Valentine card to her in the form of a letter which he signed, “From your Valentine.”
Like most holidays, this one began as a Pagan festival dedicated to the Roman god of agriculture. This festival was celebrated not on February 14, but a day later on February 15 (the Ides of February).
The festival ended with all of the city’s women placing their names into an urn after having been touched with the hide of a sacrificed goat, in order to increase fertility (this was also done to the city’s crops). Then, the city’s bachelors would choose a name from the urn and be paired with that woman for the duration of a year; most pairings ended in marriage.
Around the time of the 17th century, the custom of exchanging gifts or handwritten notes with loved ones became popular, followed by printed cards around the 1900s, after the introduction of the printing press.
However, it was in the 1840s that a woman named Esther A. Howland began to mass produce and sell valentines in America.
Esther, also known as the “Mother of the Valentine,” made these valentines from lace, ribbons and colorful pictures.
There you have it: the origins of Valentine’s Day.