Valentine’s Day is finally upon us. A day for lovers to express their affection for each other with greetings and gifts. You may be a hopeless romantic or you may have wished this day were over before it had even begun. But do you ever find yourself wondering what this day is all about? Why do people feel obligated to express their romantic feelings, even more so, on this particular day of the year? Is it simply just something the retailers have invented to get us to spend our hard earned cash?
Who is Saint Valentine?
The waters are a little murky when it comes to who St Valentine really was. One popular legend suggests that Valentine was a priest who served in the third century in Rome. During this time Emperor Claudius decided that single men made much better soldiers than those who had wives and families. He outlawed marriage for all young men. Finding this decision unjust Valentine continued to perform marriages for young couples in secret. When discovered by Claudius, it was ordered that Valentine be put to death.
Other stories suggest Valentine was killed for attempting to help Christians escape from prisons where they were tortured and beaten. Another legend contends that Valentine was in fact imprisoned himself and he actually sent the first valentine greeting to a young girl he was in love with who was thought to be the jailor’s daughter. Before his death he signed the letter “from your Valentine” which is something still done by many to this day and which more closely aligns to the practice of cards being sent by those wishing to declare their unrequited love.
By the Middle Ages Valentine would become one of the most popular saints in England and France.
The origins of Valentine’s Day
Again, it seems that Christians may well have claimed a pagan festival for their own and in fact Valentine’s Day is believed by some to have come from “Lupercalia” the pagan festival that took place in February – believed by some to have taken place to commemorate the anniversary of the death of St Valentine – was a fertility festival dedicated to Faurus the Roman God of agriculture, as well as the Roman founders, Romulus and Remus.
The festival would begin with members of the Luperci (on order of the Roman Priests) gathering at a sacred cave where Romulus and Remus were believed to have been cared for as infants, by a she-wolf or ‘Lupa’.
A goat, for fertility, and a dog, for purification, would be sacrificed. The goat’s hide would then be stripped and dipped in sacrificial blood. These hides would then be used to gently slap both women and crop fields as it was believed this would make them fertile in the coming year.
Later in the day the names of young women would be placed into a large urn and the single men of the city would choose a name from the urn. Once paired this couple would remain together for the year, often resulting in marriage. It is said that for a week the men would pin the names of their lover on their sleeves for one week and that this is the origin of the expression “to wear your heart on your sleeve.”
Fortunately for all of us, times have changed and although this pagan festival survived the rise of Christianity, it was outlawed at the end of the fifth century for being “un-Christian”. The tradition has changed but the sentiment of finding a life partner is still associated with Valentine’s day and it is the 2nd most popular day for people to propose to each other (after Christmas day).
The oldest known Valentine still in existence today was a poem written by Charles, Duke of New Orleans, to his wife, whilst he was imprisoned in the Tower of London. It can be found in the British Library http://www.bl.uk/onlinegallery/onlineex/illmanus/roymanucoll/c/027roy16f000002u00073000.html
Modern day Valentine’s
Valentine’s day is celebrated in the United Kingdom, United States, Canada, Mexico, France and Australia. It became popular in the UK around the 17th century; by the 18th century lovers began to exchange small tokens or handwritten letters as a sign of affection. In the 19th centuries printed cards replaced these handwritten notes.
It was the introduction of the Penny Post in 1840 that made it affordable for pretty much everyone to send mail and it is believed lead to more anonymous cards being sent. The ability to send such cards was central to the plot in Thomas Hardy’s Far from the Madding Crowd when Bathsheba Everdene’s valentine sent in jest to William Boldwood led to him becoming obsessed with her, and ultimately led to his imprisonment for killing Bathsheba’s husband Francis Troy.
Valentine’s day is now big business and is thought that worldwide, almost 1 billion cards are sent making it the 2nd most popular festival after Christmas for the sending/receiving of greetings cards
- Physicians of the 1800s commonly advised their patients to eat chocolates to calm their pining for lost love
- 1 Billion Valentines day cards are exchanged each year
- Roughly 3% of pet owners will get their pets gifts
- In Victorian times it was considered bad luck to sign a valentine cards
- More than 35 million boxes of heart shaped boxes will be sold
- The red rose was the favourite flower of Venus, the roman Goddess of love
- 220,000 is the average number of wedding proposals on this day
- Teachers receive the most valentines gifts
- Every Valentines day the Italian city of Verona, where Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet lived receives around 1000 letters addressed to Juliet
- Women purchase 85% of all gifts on this holiday
It is estimated that £1 billion is likely to be spent on chocolates, flowers and gifts this year in the UK
35% of gifts are predicted to be bought online this Valentine’s Day
The national average spend on valentine’s gifts for the last 2 years has been just under £50
Are you pushing the boat out this Valentine’s Day? How far are you willing to go to make this day special for your loved one? Maybe not as far as some of these celebrity couples… Perhaps spending $52,000 on planting 800 grape vines around your home is a little out of the average person’s price range!
Or how about flaunting your love with a heart shaped mitten
And for all of you who do not have somebody special to share this day with perhaps these comedians sharing their “best and worst” love stories may cheer you up… https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2018/feb/13/its-not-me-its-you-six-comedians-on-their-best-and-worst-love-stories