Every February, as the calendar slowly inches toward the 14th, the nation anticipates the grandest commercial celebration of the year. While this day is dedicated to honoring love, romance, and sweets, it is often also seen as a "consumerist" ploy that thrives off roses and boxes of chocolate. Each year, some Americans spend this day snuggled up with their loved ones, while others may ignore the 14th of February altogether. However, despite mixed feelings surrounding the true essence of valentines, most of our nation is still oblivious to the origin behind this Cupid slayn holiday.
The true roots of this celebration can be traced back to Ancient Rome during a Pagan festival honoring fertility called Lupercalia. This fertility festival, held from the 13th to the 15th of February, honored Faunus, the Greek god of Agriculture, to whom the people of Ancient Rome worshiped. During this festival, women would often carry out religious rituals to “stimulate” fertility.
While Valentine’s Day is not religious today, this festival was Christianized in the 5th Century AD when Pope Gelasius I declared February 14th as St. Valentine's Day. Following this event, the Catholic Church began replacing Lupercalia with a massive feast honoring a significant Christian Martyr, St. Valentine. However, the true identity of the Saints behind the origination of Valentines remains concealed and in its place lie several conflicting interpretations.
One popular legend associates this holiday with a Roman priest named Valentine who defied Emperor Claudius II's law banning marriages for young men. Despite the emperor's orders, Valentine continued to perform marriages in secret, believing in the value of love and marriage. When his actions were discovered, Valentine was imprisoned and sentenced to death. During his time in captivity, he healed the jailer's daughter and wrote her a farewell letter signed "From your Valentine," a phrase that is commercialized today.
Another legend suggests that Valentine was a Christian martyr who was imprisoned for aiding Christians persecuted under Roman rule. While in jail, he reportedly fell in love with the jailer's daughter and sent her letters signed with the iconic phrase "From your Valentine" before his execution.
By the Middle Ages, Valentine's Day had evolved into a celebration of romance in Europe. Over time, the holiday has grown in popularity, with the exchange of handmade cards and boxes of chocolate becoming traditional among lovers.
The tradition of exchanging Valentine's Day cards gained widespread popularity in the 19th century, thanks to the advancements in printing technology and the rise of the postal system. Esther A. Howland, known as the "Mother of the American Valentine," began mass-producing Valentine's Day cards in the United States in the 1840s, transforming the holiday into a commercial success.
Today, Valentine's Day is celebrated around the world in various ways, from romantic dinners and extravagant gifts to simple gestures of love and appreciation. While the holiday has undoubtedly been shaped by commercial interests, its true value lies in celebrating love in all forms.