Today is the day when we all rush out to get last minute cards, flowers, and candy. You won’t be able to get down the card aisle at WalMart, but hopefully the flowers you find won’t be too picked over. I went to WalMart yesterday and the workers were carrying out flowers and candy constantly to refresh the supply. But, do you know the history of Valentine’s Day?
Valentine’s Day is named in honor of St. Valentine. The holiday has roots in both Roman and Christian traditions, but the exact origin is unknown although there are a couple of theories. There are three St. Valentine’s that the Catholic church recognizes, all of them martyred. Most people believe the holiday is in honor of St. Valentine, a priest that lived during the third century. Emperor Claudius II, to have better soldiers for his army, made it illegal for young men to marry. It is believed that St. Valentine still continued to perform marriage ceremonies in secret, but when it was found out, he was killed. It was this St. Valentine that sent the first “Valentine” greeting to a young woman he had fallen in love with while imprisoned. We celebrate Valentine’s Day in the middle of February because that is when St. Valentine was killed.
Some people have a different theory. They think that Christians invented Valentine’s Day to counteract the pagan Roman festival of Lupercalia. This festival began on February 15th. It included animal sacrifices and the eventual pairing of men and women together by pulling names from a urn. The Christians felt this festival was unholy, so invented their own romantic holiday – a day earlier!
The oldest known Valentine greeting still exists. It was written in 1415 by Charles, the Duke of Orleans. He wrote it to his wife while imprisoned in the Tower of London. Today, it is part of the British Library in London. Before the mid-1800s, most Valentine’s greetings were just spoken or written in letters. But, in 1840, Esther A. Howland created the first Valentine’s Day card with lace, ribbons, and pictures.
No matter how it began, Valentine’s Day is one of the most popular holidays today. It is celebrated in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, the U.K., France, and Australia. The Greeting Card Association estimates that one billion cards are sent each Valentine’s Day, making it second only behind Christmas (when 2.6 billion cards are sent).
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