From Rome to Greeting cards: A historical look

The historical background of Valentine’s Day, much like the origins of other holidays has been partially lost in the annals of time.

“I remember they told it to me a long time ago, like in elementary school, but I forgot it,” said freshman education major, Alexandra Castillo.

Like the majority of college students Castillo has created her own history of Valentine’s Day during her lifetime, thus forgetting the old stories of love and heroism that originated in Europe and are also a part of the Catholic faith.

Looking back into third century Rome, there is significant evidence that there was a priest named Valentine. Legend has it that he defied the law in the name of love when the emperor, then Claudius II, outlawed marriage for young men since he felt that single men made the best soldiers. Valentine boldly continued to perform marriages for young lovers, seeing this new law as inhumane and selfish of the emperor. Soon enough Claudius discovered his secret acts and put him to death, thus Valentine became a valiant martyr for love.

Another story says that St. Valentine fell in love with a young lady who took the time and care to visit and tend to him while he was in jail. She was the guards daughter and it is said that right before his death he sent her a letter of love and affection, signed “From your Valentine,” thus commencing the phrase that is used annually on Feb. 14.

If these stories do not bring back memories of what you may have heard in elementary school it is probably because these are merely legend.

The Web site for the History Channel provides various accounts on how the tradition of Valentine’s Day originated. Another is that Pope Gelasius in 498 A.D. declared Feb. 14 Valentine’s Day in order to “Christianize” the Roman tradition of the Lupercalia festival, better known as a fertility festival. In order to ensure fertility, the priests of this order would gather in a sacred cave said to have housed the founders of Rome, Romulus and Remus, and they would sacrifice a goat for fertility and a dog for purification. Subsequently, they would take the sliced goats hide and dip it into the sacred blood, then gently slap it on both the women and the fields, hoping to secure a very productive coming year both in the house and in the fields. Afterwards on the same day, the women would place their names into a large urn and the men would pick out their names in a lottery like fashion. This was deemed un-Christian by the pope and thus masked by a celebration in honor of St. Valentine.

While looking at the day from a more simplistic perspective, some in France and England saw that mid-February was the beginning of bird mating season and thought that it might be a effective time for humans as well.

Today, a huge part of the celebration of St. Valentine is the actual card given from one to another. During the 1700’s hand-made cards were the way to go, but by the 1840’s Esther A. Howland commenced the booming industry of mass-produced Valentine greeting cards.

This was the precursor to the type millions of Americans send each year instead of sitting with pen and paper and composing the music of one’s heart. According to the Greeting Card Association, Americans send about one billion cards every year, making the holiday second to Christmas when it comes to cards.