Valentine’s Day is considered a day for lovers, and although most people, both young and old, celebrate this holiday, chances are that most of them have little, if any, knowledge of where and when the holiday originated. Moreover, they may not even know that the holiday was named for a saint, albeit one whose existence might simply be a myth.
A Brief History of Saint Valentine
Alternately described in various legends as a priest, a bishop, or a martyr, the saint who is associated with Saint Valentine’s Day remains somewhat of a mystery since there were actually several saints of the same name. However, the most likely candidate, who is referenced in the Nuremberg Chronicle (1493), was a priest who was martyred after being arrested and imprisoned for performing marriages for Christian couples during the reign of Roman Emperor Claudius II. (Columbia)
The saint’s biggest mistake, though, at least according to legend, was not marrying Christian couples but attempting to convert Claudius II, an act for which he was condemned to death and subsequently beheaded (Columbia). Moreover, according to American Greetings’ The Golden Legend, on the night before his scheduled execution, the priest penned the first “valentine,” which was a note addressed to a young girl whom he had reportedly healed of some affliction and of whom he had become quite enamoured. The saint signed the note, “From your Valentine.”
A Brief History of Valentine’s Day
According to some accounts, the holiday began as a Roman fertility festival. Yet other accounts have the holiday originating in the High Middle Ages, an era in which flourished the concept of courtly love, as echoed in the works of writers and poets like Geoffrey Chaucer, Chretien de Troyes, Sir Thomas Malory, and the anonymous author of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. (Columbia)
The exchange of valentines reportedly began in Great Britain in the nineteenth century. It wasn’t until the mid-1800s, though, when a woman named Esther Howland of Masschusetts began creating and producing handmade cards based upon British designs, that the custom was introduced to America, after which exchanging cards became wildly popular among the gentry, although the fad was soon adopted by the masses. (Columbia)
Interesting Facts and Figures About Valentine’s Day
Today, millions of tokens of affection are purchased and given to loved ones each year on February 14, but exactly what are the most popular gifts and how many are purchased? According to American Greetings:
- Cards remain the favorite gift for Valentine’s Day, accounting for 62.8 percent of all sales of holiday-related merchandise, followed by candy at 48.4 percent, and flowers at 36.7 percent.
- Today, millions of people send e-cards; in fact in 2008, over 10 million people sent e-cards.
- An estimated 189 million red roses are sold for the holiday.
In summary, thanks to Saint Valentine, whoever he really was, or if he even existed at all, people young and old now have a day set aside each year when they can celebrate that special feeling called “love” and, in the process, contribute to the country’s economic stability by purchasing just the right card or gift for that special someone they like to call their “Valentine.”