Text by Lesley A. Baker
February 14th remains a traditional day to celebrate love. It has long been accepted that Saint Valentine, deemed a Saint by the Catholic church, holds the keys to this yearly celebration. Although the story surrounding Saint Valentine is very mysterious, we still honour him to this day. We also know that the beginning of Valentine’s Day has both Christian and ancient Roman roots.
One of the strongest legends surrounding Saint Valentine’s suggests that while in prison himself for his faith he fell in love with the jailors daughter. She would visit him regularly while he was incarcerated. Before his execution was carried out he wrote a letter to the woman, a letter of love, which he signed “From your Valentine.” Later on he was seen as a romantic figure. By the middle ages his story became one of the most popular love stories. Years after his death the Catholic church deemed him a Saint.
Some scholars believe that Valentine’s Day is held in the middle of February in commemoration of the anniversary of either Valentine’s death or burial, which is presumed to have occurred around 270 A.D. Theologians claim that the Christian church may have decided to celebrate Saint Valentine’s feast day in the middle of February in an attempt to Christianize celebrations of the Pagan festival Lupercalia. In ancient Rome, February was the official beginning of spring and was considered a time for purification. Homes were cleansed by sweeping them out and sprinkling them with salt and spelt (a type of wheat). The Roman feast, Lupercalia, was held on February 15th, and was a fertility festival dedicated to Faunus, the Roman god of agriculture, as well as to Roman founders Romulus and Remus.
In Great Britain, Valentine’s hit the peak of popularity around the seventeen century. In the middle of the eighteenth century, friends and lovers would exchange small tokens or hand written notes as an expression of their love. By the end of the eighteenth century technology kicked in and Valentine’s Day cards were printed and sold. In America, the exchanging of hand-made Valentine’s began in the early 1700s. In the 1840’s, Ester A. Howland began to sell the first mass-produced Valentine’s in America
Today it is estimated that the greeting card companies produce over 1 billion Valentines cards, second only to that of Christmas with 2.6 billion cards. 85 percent of the buyers to these cards are women. Countries celebrating Valentine’s Day today are the United States, Canada, Mexico, the United Kingdom, France and Australia.