Today I found out how Valentine’s Day got started.
It was all a huge conspiracy jointly popularized by the diamond company De Beers; Hallmark; and the collective might of gourmet chocolate manufacturers the world over … Ok, not really, but it certainly worked out for them didn’t it??? Didn’t it!?!?!?!?
Really though, it actually all started with a little festival the Romans liked to hold every year, the festival of Lupercalia which was a fertility celebration, starting on February 13th and going through February 15th. Among other things, during this festival, young women would put their names in an urn; young men would then draw names from the urn; whoever’s name they drew would then be their female companion for 1 calendar year. This festival was celebrated annually for roughly 800 years.
Eventually though, the Catholics came along and decided they didn’t like this festival where young men were basically drawing names of young women to have as a sexual partner for a year. So the Catholics decided to do what they had been doing with various other customs of the day, trying to replace it with a Catholic tradition to try to phase out the original “heathen” tradition.
So Pope Gelasius the first, in 496 AD, decided to try and replace the festival with one of his own creation; in particular he now replaced the lottery part of the festival with his own lottery and celebrated his festival around the same time, February 14th. From now on, he proposed that instead of drawing young girls names from the urn, instead both boys and girls should draw saints names from the urn and for a year they would then strive to be like those saints… As you might imagine, this didn’t go over well as it was a lot less fun than pulling names for primarily sexual purposes. So regardless of the change, people still used it as a festival to try to gain the affections of one another, often through hand written notes. Eventually, they went back to drawing girl’s names from the urns until the 16th century when the Roman Catholic Church once again decided to try to force the “Saint Valentine’s Day” back down the Romans throats.
Valentine’s Day’s name also came from Pope Gelasius the first. He proposed to make Saint Valentine the patron of the new celebration he created to replace the Festival of Lupercalia. So who was Saint Valentine? Well actually there was more than one historic “Saint Valentine” at that time. In fact, there were three and even the Catholic Church today isn’t sure exactly which one Pope Gelasius the first was intending to honor and it is even slightly possible that he meant to honor them all.
However, it is generally thought that he was meaning to honor only one of them and that one was a priest who was eventually martyred by Roman emperor Claudius II around 270 AD and buried on the Via Flaminia on February 14; hence why it is thought the Pope picked this Saint Valentine in the first place. There isn’t much more known for a fact about the man, Valentine.
One popular theory on how he originally attracted the displeasure of Emperor Claudius II was that, at the time, Claudius was having trouble getting soldiers to go off to war in distant lands. He decided that this was because soldiers didn’t want to leave their wives and family. So he decided to prohibit young men from getting married. It is thought that Saint Valentine continued to perform secret weddings for young couples and thus eventually landed himself in prison and eventually was martyred for refusing to renounce his religion. However, because Saint Valentine’s history really isn’t completely known, the Roman Catholic Church in 1969 removed the Valentines feast day from its official calendar.
Generally speaking, this feast day of Saint Valentine was not terribly popular for quite some time after its inception. Eventually though in England in the 18th century, gift-giving and exchanging hand made love note cards on Valentine’s Day started to become very popular.
This tradition of gift giving and making hand made love notes and exchanging them on Valentine’s Day eventually spread to America. Esther A. Howland, whose father ran a large book and stationary store, received a Valentine and decided this would be a great way to make money; so was inspired to begin mass producing these formerly hand made cards in the 1850s.
Since then, the holiday has steadily grown to today when it is an absolute marketing and money making machine. According to the Greeting Card Association, more than 25% of all cards sent each year are Valentine’s Day cards, about one billion cards each year. In the 1980s the diamond industry decided it wanted its cut of the money making machine that is Valentine’s Day and began running marketing campaigns promoting Valentine’s Day as a day to give jewelry to show you “really” loved someone, instead of just sending cards and chocolates; this was obviously a very successful campaign.
Today, the original hand written love notes of the 17th century England have been replaced by mass produced, generic cards and expensive gifts; Valentine’s Day now being a multi-billion dollar money making machine for companies around the world. It is among major holidays second only to Christmas in money spent by consumers, with men on average spending twice as much as women.
If you liked this article, you might also enjoy:
- The Author of “Mary Had a Little Lamb” is Largely Responsible for the Establishment of Thanksgiving and Most of the Traditions We Associate With It
- The Woman Credited as Being the Founder of Mother’s Day Later Spent Her Family Fortune Trying to Get It Abolished
- How Black Friday Got Started
- In Saudi Arabia, in 2002 and 2008, religious police banned the sale of all Valentine’s Day items, even going so far as to make all shop owners remove all red items. This effectively created a black market for roses and wrapping paper around Valentine’s Day.
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