Valentine’s Day is the day of love, when lovers shower each other with affection in the forms of cheesy confessions and gifts, most notably red roses and heart-shaped boxes of chocolate. However, Valentine’s Day wasn’t always like that, and it has come a long way to become the holiday that we celebrate today.
The origins of Valentine’s Day can be traced back to ancient Rome, where from February 13 to 15, the Romans celebrated the feast of Lupercalia, a fertility festival to recognize the coming of spring. In dedication to the god of agriculture, Faunus, and Rome’s founders, Romulus and Remus, priests sacrificed a goat for fertility and a dog for purification. Then, the men whipped Roman women with the hides of the animals, dipped in blood. However, the women did not run away, shrieking in terror; they waited in lines for the men to hit them. The Romans believed that this deed would make the women fertile. Later on in the day, a matchmaking lottery took place, where all the young women placed their names in a jar, and the men drew a name. The two then became a couple for the coming year, which usually ended up in marriage. Then, with the rise of Christianity at the end of the fifth century, Lupercalia was deemed “un-Christian” and outlawed.
Valentine’s Day received its name from St. Valentine, a Catholic priest, who was martyred. According to one legend, in the third century of Rome, Emperor Claudius II Gothicus outlawed the marriage of young men, believing that single men fought better in battle than married men with families. Defying the orders of the Church, Valentine secretly performed marriages for young lovers in order to spare the men from war. Another account claims that the imprisoned priest sent a letter to the jailer’s daughter, whom he was in love with and allegedly healed from blindness, and it was signed “From your Valentine,” an expression widely in use today. Thereafter, Pope Gelasius declared St. Valentine’s Day on February 14.
The Middle Ages was when Valentine’s Day began to resemble the day we know now. France and England believed that the beginning of birds’ mating season was on February 14, starting to associate this day with love. Additionally, the works of Shakespeare romanticized it, popularizing Valentine’s Day throughout Europe. The oldest valentine in records belongs to Charles, Duke of Orleans, who wrote a poem to his wife during his imprisonment in the Tower of London in 1415.
Valentines began to appear more frequently beginning in the 1500s in the form of handwritten paper notes, shared with friends and lovers, and they were commercialized in the 1800s, with factory-made cards depicting butt-naked cupids. Esther A.Howland, the “Mother of Valentine,” embellished these cards with lace and ribbon that easily caught the eye, topping sales. In 1913, Hallmark Cards of Kansas City began the mass production of valentines, making it simple and convenient to express one’s affection for another.
Today, Valentine’s Day is a big business, reaching sales of $19.6 billion in 2018. Some argue that its commercialization spoiled the day, as many feel obligated to buy valentines for their loved ones from the constant advertisements and reminders that place immense value in these short-lived roses and chocolates. However, we will continue to celebrate Valentine’s Day in the name of love in our own ways, from eating with a significant other at a romantic, candle-lit dinner, to watching a rom-com movie alone on the couch while binging on self-bought chocolates.
Noorim Oh, Grade 11
North Hollywood High School