Valentine’s Day & The Myths That Surround It

The month of love is here, and what does that mean? It means chocolate, flowers, conversation hearts, and of course myths that need debunking.

Arguably the oldest myth in the book is the one surrounding the creation of Valentine’s Day. Was it really a holiday created by greeting card companies and marketers alike? Or is there a deeper meaning to the love struck day? Let’s find out!

For many, Valentine’s Day is a holiday that symbolizes love and all the desire that comes with it. For others, it’s simply just another day. However, the day itself wasn’t always meant to be heart shaped balloons and cheesy cards. The original Valentine’s Day was much different and much more significant, thus proving that the idea that Valentine’s Day was made for the likes of consumerism is far, far from the truth.

The origins of the holiday date back to A.D. 270. This would be right around the death of Saint Valentine, a martyred Christian Saint who made it his life’s mission to continue to bring couples together despite a law created by Emperor Claudius II. During his reign, Emperor Caludius made the decision to outlaw marriage for young men, stating that men who were unwed made better soldiers. Outraged by the decree, Saint Valentine chose to perform marriages for young couples in secret, eventually leading to his beheading. 

Other stories surrounding Saint Valentine and his connection to the holiday include his being a hero to imprisoned Christians, as well as the legend that he may have been the first to send a Valentine’s greeting to a long, lost lover. We may never know the full truth of Saint Valentine’s connection to February 14, but his reputation speaks for itself.

Historians differ on the origin of Valentine’s Day. Some believe the date was chosen as a way to commemorate the anniversary of Saint Valentine’s death. Others, however, seem to think February 14 was chosen as was to “christianize” the annual pagan celebration of Lupercalia. Lupercalia has been described as “a bloody, violent and sexually charged celebration” (History, 2022). The day was filled with animal sacrifices, as well as matchmaking at random, and couples looking to ward off evil spirits and infertility. It was a feral celebration to say the least, but is it where Valentine’s Day originated? Although it fought to stick around, Lupercalia was outlawed at the end of the 5th Century by Pope Gelasius. This was the same man who declared February 14 St. Valentine’s Day.

The day’s declaration didn’t necessarily make it the holiday we know it as today, however. It wasn’t until the Middle Ages that Valentine’s Day and romance became synonymous. During that time, it was a common belief amongst English and French people that February 14 was the beginning of bird mating season. The connection between the birds, the romance, and Valentine’s Day can be found in none other than a poem written by Geoffrey Chaucer titled “Parliament of Foules”. It reads: ““For this was sent on Seynt Valentyne’s day / Whan every foul cometh ther to choose his mate” (History, 2022).

It was right around this time that the first Valentine’s Day greeting cards began to appear. One of the first to be recorded in history was sent by Charles, Duke of Orleans. While imprisoned in the tower of London, he wrote a love letter to his wife to commemorate the romantic holiday, thus giving way to the greeting card system we know today.

Although the 1400s saw the first sightings of modern day Valentine’s Day, the holiday didn’t see a rise in popularity until the 17th century in Great Britain. By the middle of the 18th century, Valentine’s Day was a mainstay in British culture. It was common for friends and lovers alike to exchange gifts and handwritten notes no matter their social class. By 1900, printed greeting cards had grown exponentially in popularity.

The popularity of Valentine’s Day reached America in the 1700s, but it wasn’t until the 1840s that it really took hold. Esther A. Howland, now known as the “Mother of the Valentine”, began selling mass produced Valentine’s across the country. Her creations were elaborate with incorporations of real lace, ribbons, and colorful pictures. Today, it is estimated that 145 million Valentine’s Day cards are sent each year. That puts Valentine’s Day at #2 for the largest card-sending holiday of the year, second only to Christmas of course. 

Now you know all the history behind the day dedicated to love, but does it answer the question presented at the beginning? Is Valentine’s Day simply a holiday created by marketers and greeting card companies? I think this question has been answered more than adequately. With a little help from a saint, a salacious festival, and a mating season, Valentine’s Day had rooted itself into our global culture far before the creation of any greeting card company. So next time you go to give a Valentine’s card to a loved one, or buy a box of chocolates, or bake a red velvet cake, remember that there is much more to it than meets the eye.

Check Out These Old Valentine’s Day Greeting Cards

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