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Valentine’s Day Through the Years

Valentine’s Day Through the Years  

Valentine’s Day for many or even all, is a significant day. It’s a day for romance and to exchange gifts with your partner, and for those who are partner-less, it can appear as somewhat of a negative day, as seen in the rivalling celebrations of ‘Galantine’s Day’ and ‘Anti-Valentine’s Day’. With that being said, it’s apparent that many hold valentine’s Day with a negative denotation, as something that is exclusive to those with relationships or romance in their life. All this in mind, do we truly know why people spend the day with their significant other? Why people buy chocolates for their partners, and furthermore why ‘singles’ wave their fists angrily at the institution that is Valentine’s Day? It must be some ongoing tradition meant to make those without a relationship feel left out, right? Valentine’s Day clearly has come from some tradition, but which?

Like many holidays, Valentine’s Day started with a religious connotation that soon took on a life of its own through religious traditions morphing throughout the years into modern society’s strange and ever accepted ways of celebrations (was Saint Patrick really intending his feast day to be predominantly based upon the color green and beer?) In case you didn’t know, Valentine’s Day derives from Saint Valentine of Rome, a Roman Catholic saint present in the third century. This raises a question, how did a man from the third century create such an impact that restaurants fill up on February 14th and chocolates disappear from the shelves?

Well, even the Catholic Church admits the legends are mysterious, with Valentine’s feast day being removed from the Catholic calendar in 1969. Valentine lived in a time during which Christianity was highly persecuted. It is said that he was martyred due to marrying Christian couples in a time period where young soldiers were not to be married (okay, so this is where love comes in, right?) One story goes that Valentine helped a prisoner send a love letter to his object of affection, signing it “Your Valentine,” a well-known term even to this day. But how does this lead to an international holiday that capitalists and Hallmark cards alike celebrate?

Still foggy, Valentine’s religious connotation stretches much farther than Christianity and a guy who liked to marry people. A Pagan holiday called Lupercalia was traditionally celebrated in mid-February. It was a holiday in which sacrifices were made to the Roman god of agriculture, with sacrifices believed to increase fertility in women. Sacrifices aside, bachelors would then pick a woman’s name to be paired with for that year.

With these two coinciding holidays, many believe Valentine’s Day became an accustomed holiday during the rise of Christianity in order to overpower Lupercalia and Pagan beliefs. Popularity of this holiday didn’t seem to really gain much attention traditionally until the middle ages, in France and England in which it was commonly thought that birds’ mating season began on February 14, hence adding to the connection of the holiday with love.

Popularity of exchanging Valentine’s Day letters and holding the day significantly did not begin until around the 1400s. In America, it didn’t hit until the 1700s. It was common to exchange hand written letters with lovers or friends on this day. Some recorded are from the 15th century from the Duke of Orleans and a reference in Shakespeare’s Hamlet. In the 1840s Esther Howland, now known as the “Mother of Valentines” began selling ornate Valentine’s Day ‘cards’ with the typical lace and colors, thus popularizing mass-produced Valentine’s Day cards.

So, Valentine’s Day did not exactly come from some age-old tradition of romance and relationship celebrations. It isn’t exactly a day full of long standing tradition (Hamlet did not reference buying your girlfriend a huge teddy bear). Instead, Valentine’s Day is a celebration that overtime morphed from a martyr’s holiday meant to cover-up Paganism to a day of exchanging cards, and eventually to capitalism’s favorite date night.

 

I'm an English major in my freshman year. I enjoy writing and utilizing the written word to discuss and speak out about topics important to me, such as feminism and the all encompassing human rights issues of America.
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