The history of a Hallmark holiday
Reprinted in part from The Castle Pines Connection, Volume 5, Number 2
On February 14, people all across the world will take part in Valentine’s Day, a day predicated on the celebration of romantic love. This holiday is celebrated in the Americas, Europe and even parts of eastern Asia. In the United States alone, it’s estimated that more than 200 million people exchange Valentine’s Day cards, chocolates, flowers and other gifts. Hearts, red roses, chocolates and Cupid, we’re all familiar with the imagery and traditions of this particular holiday.
Historians differ as to the origins of Valentine’s Day and the true identity of St. Valentine, but most agree that it hasn’t always been about romantic love. One account is that for centuries, it has been celebrated in the Catholic church as a feast to St. Valentine. Valentine, or Valentinus, as he has also been called, is a figure of legend, primarily known for performing marriage ceremonies for soldiers against the wishes of the Roman Empire. Valentine’s actions were discovered, and he was executed for his selflessness.
How did the Catholic feast celebrating the life of St. Valentine become the celebration of romance that we all know so well today? For that, one can thank Geoffrey Chaucer, a medieval author known best for his The Canterbury Tales. In 1382, Chaucer wrote a poem commemorating the engagement/marriage of England’s King Richard II, which contains the first recorded connection between St. Valentine’s Day and romantic love. This association quickly spread during the Renaissance period that consumed most of Europe shortly thereafter. Valentine’s Day became an enduring part of chivalric and religious tradition, particularly in Britain.
However, when a group of Puritans (we now know this group as the Pilgrims) decided to flee oppression under the Catholic church and head to the New World, they left most of the Catholic traditions behind them, including the celebration of St. Valentine’s Day. Even into the early days of the United States, Valentine’s Day was something very few people took part in. A large influx in the number of European immigrants during the 19th and 20th centuries changed this; however, as these new citizens of the U.S. brought with them their cultural traditions.
According to the U.S. Greeting Card Association, the first mass-produced Valentine’s Day cards in the U.S. were manufactured and sold around 1847. While Valentine’s Day’s growth and acceptance has not been as public as other major holidays, it has been quite explosive, due to the sheer number of people who celebrate the holiday. The U.S. Greeting Card Association estimates that number to be in the neighborhood of one billion, a figure that continues to rise every year.
Valentine’s Day is one of the oldest holidays that we celebrate in America. For some, it is one of the more beloved, and it is symbolic of romance and bliss. For others, it is a commercialized representation of shallow gestures and overly-expensive flowers. Either way, it is here to stay, and it continues to be one of the most celebrated holidays in the world.