Not many people know the history behind Valentine’s Day.
While some people know that it’s attached to the legend of St. Valentine, other people know it only as a day to exchange gifts, candy and cards with people you care about.
Many kids usually learn about the story behind Valentine’s Day during their elementary school years, when they make mailboxes and pass out Fun Dip and candy hearts to every one of their classmates.
The legend of St. Valentine is actually full of mystery. St. Valentine is part of both ancient Roman and Christian tradition. There are at least three St. Valentines, according to the Catholic Church, each with different background stories.
One story revolves around a man named Valentine who attempted to free Christians from Roman prisons. When he was imprisoned, Valentine sent his first “valentine” letter to a woman who often visited the prison and whom he happened to fall in love with. According to legend, he wrote, “from your Valentine” on the letter.
Many believe that Christians decided to set St. Valentine’s feast day in the middle of February to coincide with the Pagan festival of Lupercalia. They believe the Christians wanted to try to take emphasis off the Pagan holiday and put it on a Christian one instead.
Lupercalia was a fertility celebration for Fanus, the Roman god of agriculture. It ended up being outlawed at the end of the fifth century when Valentine’s Day was declared to be Feb. 14.
Love was not associated with Valentine’s Day until a while after it was officially declared a feast day. In England and France during the Middle Ages, it was thought to be the beginning of mating season for birds on Feb. 14.
The first person to document Valentine’s Day as a romantic occasion was Geoffery Chaucer, an English poet. In a poem from 1375, he associated Valentine’s Day as the day every “foul” meets their mate.
The oldest known Valentine today is one by Charles, Duke of Orleans, in 1415. It was written to his wife while he was imprisoned during the Battle of Agincourt.
Valentine’s Day is associated with Cupid because Cupid has a history as part of Greek Mythology. Eros, the Greek God of love, is portrayed as a small, chubby cherub (Cupid) during the Hellenistic Period.
Valentine’s Day is not celebrated only in the U.S. but Canada, the U.K., France and Australia. It wasn’t until around the 17th Century when Valentine’s Day became popular among these places.
During the 18th Century, friends, lovers and neighbors would exchange small gifts and hand-written notes. By 1900, printed cards were available and came into popularity. Postage rates became cheaper, which also popularized the sending of Valentine’s Day cards.
The first person to create mass-produced cards in America was Esther A. Howland. According to the Greeting Card Association, about 145 million greeting cards are sent each year for Valentine’s Day. This makes Valentine’s Day the second largest card sending holiday, after Christmas. Women purchase the most Valentines usually, buying about 85 percent of the Valentines each year.