While not a national holiday, you either love or loathe Valentine’s Day (or, like me, are completely indifferent) and anything that comes along with it. From expensive greeting cards to chocolates and flowers wrapped in pink and red throughout every store you enter, it seems to many like this ‘holiday’ is just a corporate heyday to make more money for the sake of gifting a bunch of hollow, meaningless “stuff”.
But how much do you actually know about the history of Valentine’s Day– as it was before it became commercialized?
Often confused as a historically Pagan holiday because of misconceptions between Valentine’s Day and the Roman festival of Lupercalia, Saint Valentine’s Day, or the Feast of Saint Valentine, originated in AD 496 in honor of Valentine of Rome, a priest who was martyred on February 14 in 269 and added to the calendar of saints by Pope Gelasius I.
One account of Saint Valentine’s life is that of his imprisonment for ministering to Christians, while another says he performed weddings for Christian soldiers forbidden to marry. There are a handful of other stories and embellishments about his life, many of them related to the theme of love. In contrast, the 14th of February wasn’t associated with romantic love until the 14th or 15th centuries.
In fact, the celebration of Saint Valentine is not known to have any romantic connotations until 1382, after the publication of Geoffrey Chaucer’s poem Parliament of Fowls; containing one of the earliest references to the idea that Valentine’s Day is a special day for lovers. (History lesson: the poem was written in honor of the first anniversary of the engagement of King Richard II to Anne of Bohemia.)
The origins of Valentine’s Day as we know it in modern times– what with the flowers and chocolates, etc– actually began in 18th century England, where couples expressed love on the day by gifting flowers, confectionary, and greeting cards known as ‘valentines’. Since the 19th century, handwritten valentines became more like the Hallmark cards we know today.
While the day is not recognized as a public holiday in any country, it is considered as an official feast day in the Anglican Community and the Lutheran Church. For some others who observe the 14th, it’s also considered as a celebration of Spring.
In Slovenia, for example, Saint Valentine was one of the saints of Spring, the saint of good health, and the patron of both beekeepers and pilgrims.
Commercially, Valentine’s Day brings in a good chunk of change– at least in the US. According to the National Retail Federation website, Americans spent a little over 20 billion dollars on V-Day alone in 2021, with candy and greeting card sales at the top of the spending charts. Just before the pandemic hit in 2020, the average person spent $196.31 on their day of love celebrations.
Whether you’re a fan of this “holiday” or just flippantly nonchalant about the whole thing, Valentine’s Day is, after all, just a day like any other. However you choose to spend February 14 this year, we hope it’s a good one.