Andrea/Cara here, musing about traditions and how they evolve. This is, of course, the month of Love, with hearts, flowers, and chocolate—not to speak of a dizzying array of bling—filling the stores and airwaves in anticipation of Valentine’s Day. Now, I’ll confess right away that I’m rather curmudgeonly about this holiday. It’s always struck me as crassly commercial . . . I like to think Love doesn’t need to be scripted and that gifts should be personal and heartfelt—quirkily offbeat rather than perfectly polished.
I know, I know, as a romance writer, I should be embracing it. And at heart I am, as anything that encourages the expression of love and friendship is a Good Thing. However, the history nerd in me couldn’t help but be curious about the history behind the holiday. And in doing a little research, I discovered some interesting—at least they are to me—things. So allow me to share a few randomly-chosen Valentine’s Day tidbits.
There are three different Christian saints named Valentine. One legend says St. Valentine’s Day is named after an early priest, who defied the decree of Roman emperor Claudius II that forbade young men to marry. (He thought single men made better soldiers.) Valentine continued to perform marriages, for which he was put to death.
Another variation of the legend say that while Valentine was in prison, waiting for his execution, when he fell in love with the daughter of his jailer, and sent her love letters signed “from your Valentine.”
Others claim that the origin of Valentine’s Day lie in the Roman pagan fertility ritual of Lupercalia that took place every spring in February. Goats would be sacrificed, and young men would roam through the streets slapping young women with strips of the bloody hide—its touch was supposed to make them more fertile in the coming year.
During the Middle Ages, a common belief in England and France was that February 14th was the start of the mating season for birds—and thus the date became associated with the day of Love. Chaucer reinforced this idea in his writings—a quote from him reads: “For this was sent on Seynt Valentyne's day /When every foul cometh ther to choose his mate."
The first Valentine poem is to have been written in 1415 by the Duc d’Orleans to his wife from the Tower of London, where he was imprisoned after his capture at the Battle of Agincourt. (It still exists and is in the British Library’s manuscript collection.)
In the 1840s, Esther Howland created the first mass-produced Valentine cards, complete with lace and ribbons, in America. Today, it’s estimated that over a billion cards are sent worldwide. (And in case you were wondering, over 110 million roses are purchased for Valentine’s Day.)
In the early 1860s, Richard Cadbury, who took over his father’s chocolate and cocoa business with his brother, had the inspired idea to package their fancy chocolate “assortments” in fancy decorative boxes. He was the first to create a heart-shaped box!
Okay, now that I’ve revealed my sentiments and regaled you with some “bon-bons” from history, let’s hear your thoughts about Valentine’s Day. Do you like the holiday? Do you send cards? What gift do you most like to receive? (Aside from chocolate, which I’m assuming is a given. I mean . . .who wouldn’t want chocolate. Even a curmudgeon like me!)