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The Origin of Valentine’s Day

14. February 2011 by Christy 0 Comments

Though some may grumble that Valentine’s Day is a holiday created for greeting card companies and flower shops, the day has ancient origins and first became associated with love and romance well before the establishment of Hallmark or 1-800-Flowers. Here’s a brief overview of the history of Valentine’s Day.


Ancient Origins

Many believe that Pope Gelasius I established Valentine’s Day in 496 A.D. to honor two early Christian martyrs named Valentine. In 1969, Pope Paul VI removed the feast day of Saint Valentine from the General Roman Calendar, citing a lack of information about the Valentines in question. However, religious celebrations were still permitted and the feast day is still celebrated in certain parts of the world.


Valentine’s Day as a Romantic Holiday

Valentine’s Day first became associated with love and romance in the High Middle Ages (1001–1300), a time when knights, damsels, and courtly love flourished. Early literary references to Valentine’s Day as a romantic holiday include Parlement of Foules by Geoffrey Chaucer (1382), Shakespeare’s Hamlet (1600-1601), an Epithalamion by the great English poet John Donne, and Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queene (1590). The earliest surviving valentine was written in the 15th century by Charles, Duke of Orleans. The Duke wrote a poem to his wife during his imprisonment after the Battle of Agincourt, an imprisonment that lasted 24 years.


Modern Traditions

The tradition of written valentines continued after the High Middle Ages, and by the early 19th century paper valentines were so popular in the UK that workers began assembling them in factories. Esther Howland, daughter of a large book and stationary store operator, sold the first valentine cards in the United States in 1847 and this “Mother of the American Valentine” is responsible for popularizing Valentine's Day greeting cards in America.

Today, the U.S. Greeting Card Association estimates that approximately 190 million valentines are sent each year in the US, a figure that rises to 1 billion if one counts the valentine exchanges in schools. The Association also estimates that Americans sent 15 million e-Valentines (e-cards, printable valentines, etc.) in 2010.

It’s not too late to send a special Russian woman an e-card or a nice Valentine’s Day message. If you don’t know a lady well enough to share romantic sentiments than log on and start chatting. After all, love is in the air today!