Origins and Meaning of Valentine's Day 

by Lorne Caplan

Living in North America, we tend not to pay too much attention to the marketing machines that are constantly telling us to buy this or that. At least we're not completely aware of it. However, subliminally, we are overwhelmed by efforts to extract our hard earned cash on synthetic holidays, like Valentine's Day.

That isn't to say some of these "Hallmark Holidays" can't be ideal opportunities to reconnect with people that we care about. It is just that we have allowed others who have ulterior motives to tell us what to do and how to respond on events like Valentine's Day, which had dubious beginnings in human history to begin with. 

Conflicting Origins of Valentine's Day - Before Consumerism took over

What we are familiar with today, wasn't always how this event was celebrated. Instead of chocolates, flowers and gifts to share with our spouses, prospective dates (those we hope to make our sweethearts), girlfriends or boyfriends, in ancient Rome, disallowed marriages were performed in secret under the reign of Roman emperor Claudius II. It seems he didn't want single men getting married. They didn't make good soldiers and one priest, who didn't agree with the Emperor's decree (which always boded ill in those days, you just didn't disagree with an Emperor), performed marriages in secret. Alternatively, this same Valentinus may have instead been protecting early Christians as well as helping to feed and cloth jailed Christians, for which he would have also assuredly paid with his life.

Most people who defied those in power during Roman times, would usually be paraded about, tortured and starved before being publicly put to death. It was a kind of entertainment, not dissimilar to Roman gladiators slaying each-other for sport. So legend has it that this erstwhile priest sent a message from his dungeon cell (jail cell suggests some humanity and It's unlikely there was any afforded this supporter of young love and the downtrodden) to his jailers daughter, whom he fell in love with. It is said that she showed him kindness and visited him during his incarceration. This letter of affection was signed "Valentine" and thus, the legend had a martyr, a story of blossoming love and a villain of course, who's irrational and evil plans to squash romance, love and passion was overcome in death. Sounds like a Disney cartoon doesn't it?

It is variously agreed, that Valentine was made a Saint for his death on around 270 B.C.E. which was then commemorated in February, to celebrate his support and good deeds for singles and Christians. A more likely scenario has Valentine's origins as an effort to convert the debauchery, physicality and essentially, rampant copulation during the festival and feast of Lupercalla into a more Christian holy day. You see, this was a fractious period in human history, where pagans and Christians were at war to dominate civilization. Lupercalla was a springtime celebration of renewal and a time of purification, which was a good idea when ancient Rome was so in need of cleansing with open sewers and so many other aspects of a rank and putrid society that most modern people can hardly even consider.

This cleansing began at the Ides of February (the 15th) and continued for a brief amount of time thereafter, but not before a goat or sheep was ritually slaughtered at the mouth of the cave to which the founders of Rome, Romulus and Remus, were thought to be cared for by a she wolf. The festival and offerings were also dedicated to Faunus, The Roman god of agriculture. Do you see how this festival can be co-opted to become, conveniently, a holiday for a new religion as most ancient pagan rituals were?

The Luperci, an ancient order of priests, led this ritual festival and therefore preserved their role in their society, provided their followers with an event to celebrate as well as keep masses under control and subservience. To make this event even more involved, young boys were said to take strips of the slaughtered animal and slap the blood soaked meat on crops and women to promote fertility. Yum! Not quite as endearing as a box of decadent chocolates is it?

Practices got a little more merry as time dragged on and by the beginning of the Christian era, young women would place  their names in an urn, to which bachelors of any age, would pick a name out and become paired with that women for the year, which often ended in marriage and certainly after some, or rather a lot of, carnal activity went on. This tradition went even further by the middle-ages, when young men and women wore the name pinned to their sleeves for a week to ward off would be suitors while they secluded themselves with the women they chose. This is where the expression "wearing your heart on your sleeve" came from and no, it wasn't at all gender equivalent. Sorry ladies. We men didn't "get it" until much, much later!

Two Christian martyrs are also mentioned are Valentine of Rome who died in 269 B.C.E and Valentine of Terni, who still have relics interned in various churches, but have little to know information to support their being the impetus behind the celebration. 

Needless to say, this fun (it wasn't always a match made in goat meat heaven) was banned as the Christian church became more powerful at the waning years of the Roman empire (and the Feast Day of St. Valentine was banned altogether in 1969 from the General Roman Calendar). In 498 C.E., pope Gelasius declared February 14, St. Valentine's Day. The lottery pairing was banned as un-Christian, however the celebrations of renewal and coupling were maintained through to the middle-ages. This "fear" of Valentine's Day continues today, with the Iranian government and theocracy banning anything related to Valentine's Day. I guess they'll just have to become a country with no love, romance or intimacy. Sounds fun, eh?

Getting back to the history, with the ascendency of Gaul (modern day France), Spain and England as Christian powers, these countries inserted the realities of bird's mating seasons being in the middle of February, further solidifying the perception that Valentine's Day was a celebration of coupling and fertility. The ancient worship of mother earth and Druidism (which died out around the same time as pope Gelasius attempted to quash another fun human activity) practiced by the ancient Celts, was also rolled into modern St. Valentine's celebrations, by combining the fertilization of the earth by the great father that occurred around the Spring solstice in March.  

The Renaissance Romance - Still sending love letters from jail

With wars raging for control of precious metal and the modern world, it was inevitable that some stories of love and romance should permeate the desperation and futile existence of whole populations caught up in this struggle to exist. Not unlike our own celebrity worship that goes on today. So who was this historical celebrity? Apparently, it was the Duke of Orleans, Charles, who sent a "greeting" to his wife from his prison cell in the Tower of London. You see, he was captured during the battle of Agincourt (more warring!)  and in 1415 (when it was dated), he was trying to get word out of his and France's predicament in a carefully worded letter. This is considered the oldest Valentine "card" in existence, which was followed up by the English king Henry V, who hired a writer to send a Valentine's note to Catherine of Valois.

Some attribute the flourishing of Valentine's affection to the father of British literature, Geoffrey Chaucer who died in 1400 C.E, who also recorded the rituals and mating of birds in particular detail, "Whan every foul cometh theere to choose his mate and to the amusement of the royal courts. Ultimately it was the British King Henry VII who declared February 14 St. Valentine's Day formally ensconcing it into our modern year calendar.

This constant fighting between to intractable and intertwined enemies would go on for centuries more, but the holiday, if you can call it that, had made it's mark and was further institutionalized in Britain by the middle of the 17th century with the proliferation of the printing press (invented in the middle of the 15th century) allowing more people to hear (as literacy was still very poor, which is where the roll of town-crier came from, one man, usually, reading to the whole town) authors like Chaucer. Not only did most people not read, they also couldn't write for the most part, which is why most hand-written cards were completed by scribes and signed by the one sending the card and signed by an "x" which is where "x" gained it's image as an expression of love and a kiss.

While printed notes were still far too expensive for the masses, most were taken to send written notes to their partners through the middle of the 18th century, by which time it became more affordable for everyone as the industrial revolution too hold, to send printed cards. In 1797, a primer for men called "The Young Man's Valentine's Writer" was published, to help those linguistically challenged. Versus and poems were provided by this primer and printed on cards that could be sent anonymously, with racy text that would otherwise be frowned upon during the prudishness of the Victorian era. Most cards, however, were still hand made representing a higher station in life as well as an ability to provide for the chosen Valentine.

Americans too, began to send printed cards as postage rates became more affordable and by 1840, a woman named Esther Howland, created the first mass produced Valentine's Day cards, which has variously been attributed to her desire to help women to be appreciated for their hard work and commitment to their men as well as an attempt to help couples and singles join in some form of romance that was quickly becoming more difficult with the wars and tension in the new country of the United States of America. 

Enter the Age of Consumerism - Love and romance for a price

Of the $7.5 billion in greeting card sales last year, according to the American Greeting Card Association, $160 million of those cards were sent for Valentine's Day (over 20% of all cards, with 60% of that total going out for Christmas and holidays). Over 80% of cards are purchased by women, who still hold Valentine's Day as a more important day than most men, who still can't seem to get their romance "on". The first Hallmark Valentine's Day card was printed in only 1913. 
Some legends, put the first flowers given for Valentine's Day, as those chosen by a French princess and turned over to her chosen Valentine during a party in his honor. This 17th century gift, was unattainable to the vast majority of people due to it's cost and rarity. As a symbol of love, the red rose was often chosen in the Victorian era, when Dutch flower distribution improved to the point that this sentiment could reflect the favorite flower of Venus, the Roman goddess of love. It didn't even occur to give a gift on Valentine's Day, until some say Richard Cadbury, in 1868, set a box of his confections in a heart shaped display and gave it to his daughter. He denied that it had anything to do with the holiday, but those who could afford such luxuries started to adopt it as a ritual along with hand-written and printed cards.
Traditional Box Of Valentine's ChocolatesDespite the value of the holiday today, it was not until after the second world war and the boom in the economy, that small gifts were regularly exchanged along with cards.  Today, 75% of all chocolate is purchased by men during Valentine's Day, while during the year, women are the ones buying the majority of chocolate, which is still one of the true aphrodisiacs in it's dark chocolate form. 
Most men make their purchases of lingerie, flowers and chocolate within two days of February 14th, while women begin buying their special someone a gift by January 15th, a full month in advance of the holiday. Women also tend to take care of themselves too. Almost 15% of women buy themselves flowers on Valentine's Day,Red Rose Bouquet and Attached Hugs & Kisses obviously pressured by advertisers and our culture to make the day more tolerable, especially if a woman is single.
Indeed, it wasn't until the 1980's, that DeBeer's, the South African diamond conglomerate, saw an opportunity to extract some revenue from an increasingly wealthy North American population, marketing diamonds and jewelry as a Valentine's Day gift option. It was during the late 70's and 1980's that the industries options for Valentine's Day gifts really took off with everything from personalized Cd's, to electronics being given to woo a lover or prospective mate, as well as simply an excuse to buy a gift. 
With over a billion dollars in chocolate sold for the holiday and over 110 million red roses sold within three days of February 14th, you can see why it has become an important event during the calendar year. Hopefully, the original meaning and reason behind the Valentine's Day origins won't be lost and the original hand written, elaborately designed cards will be included in your offer to that someone special. Rather than a quick gift, your lover, spouse, friend and partner will likely be touched and impressed by your knowledge of the holiday as well as your thoughtful gift. If you feel you need to give an expensive or large gift, than the meaning may be lost as it seems to have been in North America today. 

About the Writer
Lorne Caplan started his career in biotech and medical device financing, moving into spas, skincare and all things anti-aging, aphrodisiac fragrance and pheromone/endocrine related.  This led him into his current focus on romance, passion and intimacy products and services where he developed  his product line and merged his knowledge of anti-aging therapies to those supporting relationships and couples. As a father and stepfather to five girls, his unique understanding of female physiology and mentality combined with his own personal experiences, allow for a unique and all encompassing perspective on these subjects.  Lorne is a speaker and presenter and has appeared on television shows such as Dr. Phil and is frequently published and quoted in multiple media outlets like Shape, and Spa 20/20.

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