ValentineOn February 14th in many countries throughout the world, men and women, friends and lovers, spouses and secret admirers will give one another cards, flowers, chocolates, and other gifts in honor of Saint Valentine – a man with a considerably murky past. Who exactly was this Saint Valentine and how did Valentine’s Day come into being?

Although the precise origin of the holiday is not known with certainty since at least three martyred individuals in history have the name Valentine, there is one story involving ancient Rome and the Christian church that stands above the rest as being the most legitimate.

Emperor Claudius II (213 – 270) was an ambitious leader who constantly had his soldiers out conducting military campaigns. Because the married men were away from their wives for so long on battles, they invariably suffered from homesickness and lovesickness; and hence, the married ones made the worst fighters. Emperor Claudius was informed of this and as a result banned marriage for young people so he could continue waging wars with soldiers who weren’t preoccupied with their wives back home. But Valentine, a priest at the time, recognized the harshness of Claudius’s new law and being the defiant individual he was, went right on marrying young people until he was discovered by the authorities and thrown into prison.

While Valentine was incarcerated he developed a friendship with Asterius, his jailor. Asterius had a blind daughter and asked Valentine if he could perform a miracle and restore her sight. Valentine agreed and the daughter was brought in and he succeeded in healing her vision, but the legend goes that Valentine also fell in love with the woman. On February 14th Valentine was beheaded for his crime of marrying young people, but before being executed he wrote Asterius’s daughter a love night that ended with the phrase, “From your Valentine” – words we still use to this day.

Then in 498 AD, Pope Gelasius sanctioned February 14th as being the day to honor Saint Valentine and to also replace a primitive fertility festival known as Lupercalia that occurred in February with something more Christian. The festival involved dog and goat sacrifices, sacred caves, hides dipped in blood that were used to whip people in the streets (mostly women), all of which was believed to make the fields and the women more fertile. After the animal sacrifice and blood parade, a lottery was then conducted which paired up single people for marriage. Pope Galasius thought this festival was much too barbaric, and after banning it, put Valentine’s Day in its place.

When the holiday was first created, only handwritten notes or small gifts were exchanged between couples. But in the late 18th century, after printing technology had fully blossomed, printed cards were being sold for the occasion. It was easier for the public to purchase ready-made cards which stated their personal feelings for them instead of having to pour out their emotions on paper. Today it is believed that over a billion Valentine’s Day cards are given per year on average, making it the second most popular card-giving day, with Christmas of course being the first.

Here are a few more facts and statistics concerning Valentine’s Day:

Other countries that celebrate it are Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, France, Korea, Japan, and Mexico.

The first known mention of Valentine’s Day in literature occurs in Geoffrey Chaucer’s work Parlement of Foules written in 1382, which contains the couplette (modernized here):

     For this was sent on Valentine’s Day
     When every bird comes there to choose his mate

Both Nebraska and Texas have cities with the name ‘Valentine.’

Woman buy about 85% of all Valentine gifts.

About 180 million roses are given on the holiday along with 36 million boxes of candy (usually in the shape of a heart). 

On February 14th in the year 1400, a “High Court of Love” was formed that dealt with marriages, violence against females, betrayals, and other incidents involving personal relationships.

Esther A. Howland started making the first commercial cards for Valentine’s Day in the 1840s. They were sophisticated objects that included ribbons, lace, and small pictures.

More than half the purchases of Valentine cards occur in the six days before the actual holiday.

Valentine’s Day generates about 14 billion dollars annually.

A holiday called ‘Black Day’ is held on April 14th in Korea, where the men who did not receive any Valentine’s Day gifts get together and eat a dish called Jajangmyun, which is Chinese noodles soaked in a black sauce.

In the British Museum you can see the first known Valentine’s Day card, which was made in 1415 by Duke Charles of Orleans and sent to his wife.