Valentine’s Day is the second largest card-sending holiday every year, second only to Christmas, and Americans are estimated to spend over $20 billion on chocolates, flowers, cards, jewelry and other gifts. And while we all know we are celebrating loved ones, most of us don’t know who Saint Valentine was, why we celebrate him or what he has to do with love. Here’s a brief history of how Valentine’s Day came about.
Not much is actually known about the official namesake of the holiday. To make matters confusing, there were actually three Saint Valentines throughout Roman history. One was put to death for secretly performing marriage rites for young couples after Emperor Claudius II banned marriage for young men, believing single men made better soldiers. Other stories suggest Valentine may have been killed for helping Christians escape harsh Roman prisons, or that while imprisoned himself, Valentine sent the first “valentine” to a young girl he fell in love with who visited him in secret, signed “From your Valentine.”
The roots of Valentine’s Day date back to an ancient Roman fertility festival, held mid-February, called Lupercalia. The Romans would throw a raucous party to Faunus, the Roman God of agriculture, and Romulus and Remus, the founders of Rome. Later, the Christian Church chose mid-February for Saint Valentine's day to Christianize Lupercalia. In the 1300s, the holiday was officially linked with love and romance as February 14th was thought to be the start of the birds’ mating season. The first written valentines greetings appeared in the 15th century and by the 17th century, Great Britain had begun a holiday tradition of exchanging cards or letters.
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