February 14th is Valentine’s Day which most Americans associate with love and romance. However, it hasn’t always been that way. Although it is believed the origins of Valentine’s Day are rooted in a pagan festival that was celebrated in the middle of February each year, it contains vestiges of both ancient Roman and Christian traditions. It wasn’t until the 5th century when the pagan festival of Lupercalia was outlawed as it was deemed “un-Christian,” that Pope Gelasius declared February 14th St. Valentine’s Day in honor of at least three different saints named Valentine, all of whom were martyred.
Legends of the three Valentines would have one of them a priest who married young soldiers, even though it was against the law; another helped Christians escape harsh Roman prisons. A prisoner, the third Valentine, is actually credited for writing the first “valentine” greeting. Having fallen in love with a young girl who visited him in prison, he wrote her a letter before his death and signed it “From your Valentine,” a phrase still used today.
Although St. Valentine was the most popular saint in England and France, romance was not associated with St. Valentine’s Day until the Middle Ages. Chaucer wrote of St. Valentine’s Day as a romantic holiday in 1382. Knights gave roses to their maidens, and songs were sung under balconies and from afar. Hand-written valentine’s messages began to appear in the 1400’s, beautiful hand-made valentine’s cards by the 1700’s, and mass-produced valentine's in 1840. Also in 1840, a young British chocolatier, Richard Cadbury, saw Valentine’s Day as an opportunity to sell the new varieties of eating chocolates he had recently produced after improving his technique for extracting cocoa butter from whole beans. So, he packaged them in beautiful heart-shaped red boxes decorated with cupids and bows, and marketed the chocolates to eat now, and the box for storing mementos in later.
Today more than 141 million Valentine’s Day cards are exchanged in the United States. There are 189 million flowers, 90 % of which are roses, sold on Valentine’s Day, 110 million of which are red. 36 million heart-shaped boxes of chocolate will be sold, generating over $1 billion dollars, and 8 billion candy hearts will be manufactured and sold. That’s enough candy hearts to go between Italy and Arizona twenty times. And there are approximately 220,000 marriage proposals on Valentine’s Day; that’s the population of Glendale, CA, or Montgomery, AL.
So is Valentine’s Day romantic? Perhaps. But for me, a hopeless romantic, I don’t care much for the grand romantic gestures of Valentine’s Day. I’d much prefer wildflowers picked from the side of the road on a summer day or a meal planned and cooked for me giving me a night off. The small gestures, a call or text just to say “I miss you” or “I’m thinking about you,” the brush of a hand in passing, a kiss goodbye in the morning and hello in the evening; these are the romantic gestures that tell me he loves me every day. So to my husband, Robert, thank you, and I love you! On Valentine’s Day and every day thereafter.
Lori C. Lewis
Administrative Assistant, Neill Public Library