History of Valentines Day
People in most Western countries celebrate Valentine's Day on
February 14. Many schools hold Valentine's Day parties when children
make special decorations for their classrooms. Old and young alike
exchange Valentine cards with their friends.
The custom of exchanging greetings on Valentine's Day goes back
hundreds of years. Scholars have found records of Valentine notes
that date from the 1400's.
For weeks before February 14, stores sell valentines and valentine
decorations. Schoolchildren decorate their classrooms with paper
hearts and lace for this occasion. On Valentine's Day, many people
give candy, flowers and other gifts to their friends.
How did it begin?
Deferent authorities believe Valentine's Day began in various ways.
Some trace it to an ancient Roman festival called Lupercalia. Other
experts connect the event with one or more saints of the early
Christian church. Still others link it with an old English belief
that birds choose their mates on February 14. Valentine's Day
probably came from a combination of all three of those sources.
The ancient Romans held the festival of Lupercalia on February 15 to
ensure protection from wolves. During the celebration, young men
struck people with strips of animal hide. Women took the blows
because they thought that the whipping made them more fertile. After
the Romans conquered Britain in A.D. 43, the British borrowed many
Roman festivals. Many writers link the festival of Lupercalia with
Valentine's Day because of the similar date and the connection with
The early Christian church had at least two saints named Valentine.
According to one story, the Roman Emperor Claudius II in the A.D.
200's forbade young men to marry. He thought single men made better
soldiers. A priest named Valentine disobeyed the order and secretly
married young couples.
Another story says Valentine was an early Christian who made friends
with many children. The Romans imprisoned him because he refused to
worship their gods. The children missed Valentine and tossed loving
notes between the bars of his cell window. The tale may explain why
people exchange messages on Valentine's Day. Many stories say that
Valentine was executed on February 14 about A.D. 269. In A.D. 496
Saint Pope Gelasius named February 14 as St. Valentine's Day.
In Norman French, a language spoken in Normandy during the Middle
Ages, the word galantine sounds like Valentine and means gallant or
lover. This resemblance may have caused people to think of St.
Valentine as the special saint of lovers.
The earliest records of Valentine's Day in English tell that birds
chose their mates on that day. People used a different calendar
before 1582 and February 14 came on what is now February 24. Geoffrey
Chaucer, and English poet of the 1300's wrote in The Parliament of
Fowls, "For this was on St. Valentine's Day, When every fowl cometh
there to choose his mate." Shakespeare also mentioned this belief in
A Midsummer Night's Dream.
Early Valentine Customs.
People in England probably celebrated Valentine's Day as early as the
1400's. Some historians trace the custom of sending verses on this
day to a Frenchman named Charles, Duke of Orleans. Charles was
captured by the English during the Battle of Agincourt in 1415. He
was taken to England and put in prison. One Valentine's Day, he sent
his wife a rhymed love letter from his cell in the Tower of London.
Many Valentine's Day customs involved ways that single women could
learn who their future husbands would be. Englishwomen of the 1700's
wrote men's names on scraps of paper, rolled each in a little piece
of clay and dropped them all into water. The first paper that rose to
the surface supposedly had the name of a woman's true love.
Also in the 1700's, unmarried women pinned five bay leaves to their
pillows on the eve of Valentine's Day. One in the center and one in
each corner. If the charm worked they saw their future husband in
One of the oldest customs was the practice of writing women's names
on slips of paper and drawing them from a jar. The woman whose name
was drawn by a man became his valentine and he paid special attention
to her. Many men gave gifts to their valentines.
One description of Valentine's Day during the 1700's tells of how
groups of friends met to draw names. For several days each man wore
his valentine's name on his sleeve. The saying wearing his heart on
his sleeve probably came from this practice.
The custom of sending romantic messages gradually replaced that of
giving gifts. In the 1700's and 1800's many stores sold handbooks
called valentine writers These books included verses to copy and
various suggestions about writing valentines.
Commercial valentines were first made in the early 1800's. Many of
them were blank inside with space for the sender to write a message.
Many valentines of the 1800's were hand painted. Some featured a fat
cupid or showed arrows piercing a heart. Many cards had satin, ribbon
or lace trim. Some cards cost as much as $10.
Valentine's Day Lore
The Origins of Valentines
As early as the fourth century B.C.,
the Romans engaged in an annual
young man’s rite of passage
to the god Lupercus.
The names of teenage women were placed in a box
and drawn at random by adolescent men.
Thus, a man was assigned a woman companion,
for their mutual entertainment and pleasure,
for the duration of a year,
after which another lottery was staged.
Determined to put an end to this 800-year-old practice,
the early church fathers sought a "lovers" saint
to replace the deity Lupercus.
They found a likely candidate in Valentine,
a bishop who had been martyred some 200 years earlier.
Traditionally, mid-February was a time for Romans
to meet and court prospective mates.
Young men offered women they admired and wished to court
handwritten greetings of affection on February 14.
The cards acquired St. Valentine’s name.
As Christianity spread, so did the Valentine’s Day card.
The earliest one was sent in 1415
by Charles, Duke of Orleans,
to his wife, while he was a prisoner
in the Tower of London.
It is now in the British Museum.
The first American publisher of Valentines
was printer and artist Esther Howland.
Her elaborate lace cards of the 1870s cost from five to ten dollars,
with some selling for as much as thirty-five dollars.
Since that time, the Valentine card business has flourished.
Except for Christmas,
Americans exchange more cards
on Valentine’s Day
than at any other time of the year.
In the Middle Ages, one Valentine's Day custom was for young men and women to draw names from a bowl
to see who their valentines would be. They would then wear these names on their sleeves for one week.
"To wear your heart on your sleeve" now means that it is easy for other people to know how you are feeling.