Valentine's Day, or Saint Valentine's Day, is celebrated on February 14th. It began as a Christian holiday in honour of saints (there were two of them) named Valentinus. Later, it took on a romantic identity. It is now a day for celebrating love and romance all over the world, Christians and non-Christians alike.
Valentine was a popular name in Rome. The Valentines connected with Valentine's Day were both martyrs, killed in different years on February 14th. Martyrs are people who have died for standing up for what they believe in. Saint Valentine of Rome died because he helped marry people who were not allowed to get married. He also held religious services for Christians, who were not yet considered a legitimate religious group. He was martyred in 269. Saint Valentine of Terni was a bishop who was martyred in 273, also for holding religious service. These saints were honoured with a feast day that was held every year on the anniversary of their deaths, February 14th.
Love and Romance
Saint Valentine's day first connected with love and romance in the 1300's. Geoffrey Chaucer (who wrote The Canterbury Tales) wrote a poem called Parlement of Foules in 1382. He wrote it in tribute to the anniversary of the king's engagement. In it, he spoke of birds coming to find their mates on St. Valentine's Day. Later, the Duke of Orleans wrote to his wife while he was imprisoned in the Tower of London in 1415. In his letter, he called her his Valentine. From then on, slowly more literature referred to Valentine's Day as a romantic day, for example in Shakespeare's Hamlet:
- "To-morrow is Saint Valentine's day,
- All in the morning betime,
- And I a maid at your window,
- To be your Valentine.
- Then up he rose, and donn'd his clothes,
- And dupp'd the chamber-door;
- Let in the maid, that out a maid
- Never departed more."
- — William Shakespeare, Hamlet, Act IV, Scene 5
Roses are Red
The modern poem that most of us know came out in a collection of nursery rhymes in 1784 - Gammer Gurton's Garland.
- "The rose is red, the violet's blue,
- The honey's sweet, and so are you.
- Thou art my love and I am thine;
- I drew thee to my Valentine:
- The lot was cast and then I drew,
- And Fortune said it should be you."
Modern Valentine's Day
By 1797, Valentine's day was already a popular lover's day in England. Publishers began putting out collections of suggested Valentine notes and even pre-made cards. As mailing letters became easier and cheaper, more people began sending Valentines through the mail instead of hand-delivering them. This also meant that one could send a Valentine anonymously, without the receiver knowing who sent it. As a result, racy Valentines soon appeared. The craze caught on in the United States in the mid 1800's. Today there is even an award for original Valentine's Day card copy!
As the tradition of sending Valentine's Day cards and letters grew, people began giving gifts as well. Chocolate and flowers were (and still are) popular gifts to give one's sweetheart. In the last 60 years or so, giving gifts like jewelry has become customary. Now we give Valentines not only to our romantic partners but to parents and children as well. It is also a common custom for children to exchange Valentines with their classmates. And of course with modern media and internet, e-cards and digital Valentines are a great way to send Valentines over long (or short) distances.