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The History of Valentine’s Day 

ASC News & Events | February 15, 2021

Receiving flowers or a thoughtful letter is a delightful feeling, especially to those in Senior Living who can’t always see their loved ones. Valentine’s Day is a great opportunity to let our loved ones know that we are thinking of them and how much we care. But where did this holiday, filled with love and heart-shaped gifts originate, and who is St. Valentine? There are several interesting details that together, give shape to a very lovely holiday.

Honoring St. Valentine

Around 270 A.D. Roman Emperor Claudius II, who needed men to join his army, banned all marriages so that men would not marry and instead join his army. A Roman priest called St. Valentine saw the value in love and marriage and continued to marry couples in secret. Claudius soon found out about this disobedience and sentenced St. Valentine to death on February 14th. One theory is that Valentine’s Day is a way to honor St. Valentine and his commitment to love.

Lupercalia Festival

Another theory suggests Valentine’s Day replaced the old Roman festival called Lupercalia. During this festival, men would match with women by drawing names from a jar and then spend the next year together, generally leading to marriage. The festival celebrated purification and fertility but also contained cruel practices. It was later banned by Pope Gelasius, who then declared February 14th as St Valentine’s Day.

Geoffrey Chaucer’s Poem

Yet another early reference to Valentine’s Day, dating from 1375, is cited in a poem by English poet Geoffrey Chaucer. During this era, people in England and France believed that birds and people began looking for mates on February 14th. In Chaucer’s poem, he writes, “For this was sent on Seynt Valentyne’s day / Whan every foul cometh ther to choose his mate”.

Valentine’s Day Through the Years

While the origins of Valentine’s Day are a bit fuzzy, some recorded events in history may have led to our present Valentine’s Day traditions.

  • 1415: During the Battle of Agincourt, Charles, Duke of Orléans wrote the first written Valentine poem to his wife while he was a captured prisoner.
  • 1700’s: Americans commonly exchanged hand-written cards or items such as gloves and spoons on February 14th.
  • 1840: Esther A Howland, also known as the “Mother of the Valentine,” asked her father, the owner of a stationery store, to provide her with lace, ribbons, and other decor so she could make valentines to sell. She then asked her friends and family to sell her valentines as they traveled. Soon her business took off, and she became the first person to mass-produce valentines.
  • 1900’s: As technology advanced, printed cards began to replace hand-made cards, which sped up the process and allowed the market to grow further.
  • 1911: Hallmark was founded and began producing cards in color and at a lesser expense. They also shifted the focus from merely sending cards to romantic partners, to school children sending them to classmates as a friendly gesture.
  • Present: Today, the focus of Valentine’s Day has expanded to include the celebration of all friendships, relationships, and even lack of relationships, as it is also known as Single Awareness Day. It is also the second-largest card selling holiday with 145 million cards sent each year.

No matter how this holiday originated or how you’re celebrating, Valentine’s Day is a great reminder to reach out to those you care about. By sending a sweet card, a bouquet of flowers or simply spending time with your loved ones, celebrating Valentine’s Day is a lovely excuse to recognize the important people in our lives, Happy Valentine’s Day!

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