Even though Saint Valentine died over 1,700 years ago we are still sending Valentines today. It seems that just as soon as the stores put away their Christmas merchandise, out comes the Valentine’s Day items even though Valentine’s is still more than six weeks away. It also seems to take many shoppers by surprise to see Valentine’s Day merchandise so soon after Christmas. It has lead more than one shopper to wonder where Valentine’s Day comes from and whether it was invented to create more business when Christmas is over. The surprising truth is that Valentine’s Day has a long and rich history. It is simply not a “greeting card” holiday that was invented to sell more greeting cards or by candy companies to sell more candy or by florists to sell more roses.
The truth is astounding in the facts that show Valentine’s Day actually started more than 1,500 years ago.
According to many legends, Valentine was a priest who defied the orders of the Roman emperor Claudius II and continued to perform marriages. It seems that Claudius, desperate to build up the ranks of his armies, came to the realization that young men did not want to join his army because they didn’t want to leave their wives and sweethearts. In response to this Claudius outlawed marriage for men of a certain age group. The priest Valentine was sympathetic to all the young lovers were unable to marry and began marrying them in secret. When it was discovered that Valentine was still performing marriages in secret, Claudius was outraged and Valentine was sentenced to death.
The myths of Valentine become even murkier at this point. Some stories indicate that while imprisoned (either for the secret marriages or something else entirely) he allegedly cured the jailer’s daughter of blindness, and on the night before his execution, sent a note to her signed “from your Valentine.” He reportedly died on Feb. 14, 269 A.D. and was buried nearby by his devoted followers. Yet it was not until 496 AD that Pope Gelasius named February 14th as the day to honor St. Valentine.
The first Valentines card is credited to Charles, Duke of Orleans, who when imprisoned in the Tower of London during the 1400s wrote romantic verses that he sent to his wife. Some of these verses survived and are on display in Britain.
A woman named Esther Howland is credited with sending the first Valentine in the United States. These cards were at first simple messages and then evolved to works of art done with pen and ink or sometimes even elaborate water colors. Many Valentines were hand-painted cards decorated with lace and feathers and even sequins.
The United States Postal Service actually has the credit of advancing the popularity of sending Valentines. This occurred when the penny postcard was introduced in the mid 1800s. The rise in popularity occurred then because before that, sending mail was too expensive for the average person, because at the time, the person who received the letter paid the postage and not the person who sent the letter.
Modern-day mass-produced Valentines run the gamut from silly to romantic. Today’s level of technology allows for even an elaborate card to be produced rather efficiently in both cost and time. Valentines can reflect your own personal style, interest or even hobby. In addition there is a whole array of merchandise that can be purchased to go along with your cards that includes candy, flowers and even stuffed animals as some of the most popular gifts. While many may scoff at the commercialism of Valentines, knowing the real story behind this February holiday really does put a whole new perspective on it.