Today, most people simply think of Valentine’s Day as a tradition that has been around for as long as they can remember. Valentine’s Day is an ancient holiday that can be traced as far back as Roman times and did not involve candy and sweet cards.
The Roman holiday of Lupercalia was celebrated on Feb. 15 in honor of the Roman god of agriculture and fertility, Faunus. This holiday was celebrated differently from how it is celebrated today. The festival involved sacrificing animals and then “softly” slapping women and crops with the bloody hide.
According to legend, all young women of Rome would put their names in a big urn. The single young men would then take turns drawing names, and they would be paired with the woman they drew for a year. Often, the men would eventually marry the woman they were paired with.
The holiday continued until the fifth century, when it was outlawed by Pope Gelasius I and replaced with Valentine’s Day on Feb. 14. Little is known about St. Valentine of Terni, and in fact, there are 11 other sanctified Valentine’s with two living in the same era.
According to lore, Valentine of Terni was beaten, stoned and beheaded around 269 A.D. for marrying Christian couples. Because of his association with marriage, Valentine of Terni became the patron saint of love and still has his name attached to the modern holiday.
The emphasis on love and passion we see splashed through shopping malls began here.
The holiday continued to evolve over millennia. During the middle ages in France and England, February was believed to be the beginning of the mating season for birds, further reinforcing Valentine’s association with love. The oldest valentine, in the sense of the physical love note or letter, historians know of was a poem written in 1415 by Charles, Duke of Orleans, to his wife during his imprisonment. How romantic.
Valentine’s has been celebrated in the United States since its founding. In the 1840s, Esther Howland began selling the first mass-produced Valentine’s cards which came with lace, ribbon and vibrant photos.
Now over a century and a half later, around a billion cards are sold each year in the States alone. Over $18 billion were made off the holiday last year. Love is expensive.
Since Valentine’s grip tightened on America, the love has spread to other sides of the planet.
Every year, Valentine’s is celebrated across the world with many nations adding their own unique tradition to the holiday.
In South Korea, the women are responsible for bringing chocolate and flowers to the men.
In the Philippines, couples will gather together and have mass weddings in large public areas or renew their vows as part of a large group.
In South Africa, women pin the names of love interests on their sleeves to let the men know who’s interest they have caught. Talk about wearing your heart on your sleeve.
Valentine’s Day is no longer the holiday it was, but it has become a tradition enjoyed by people across the world.
While its origins are still debated, the holiday celebrated today will, without doubt, be around for a long time to come as love is an idea that appeals to all.