The History of Valentines Day

The origins of St. Valentine’s Day celebrations appears to have begun life as a pagan fertility festival known as Lupercalia. Celebrated in ancient Rome around the middle of February, the festival is said to have involved sacrificing animals and whipping young women with their skins, with the premise this would increase their fertility, and although Lupercalia survived the initial rise of christianity it was outlawed by the church towards the end of the 5th century, when Pope Gelasius declared February 14th St. Valentine’s Day in honour of one of its priests who was put to death for marrying couples in secret against the wishes of the then Roman Emperor Claudius the Second who have issued an edict forbidding couples to marry because he believed unmarried men made better soldiers,

It was not until much later, however, that the day became definitively associated with love. During the Middle Ages, it was commonly believed in France and England that February 14th was the beginning of the birds’ mating season, which added to the idea that Valentine’s Day should be a day for romance.

It is however Charles, the Duke of Orléans who is recorded as sending the earliest surviving Valentine’s letter. The Duke wrote to his wife from his prison cell in the tower of london following his capture at the battle of argincour in 1415. In the poem the duke talks of his love for his wife and refers to her as “my very sweet Valentine”.

By 1601 St. Valentine’s Day appears to have become part of English tradition, as william shakespear mention of it in Ophelia’s lament in Hamlet: "Tomorrow is Saint Valentine’s day, All in the morning betime, And I a maid at your window, To be your Valentine"but it was not until royal mail introduced the Penny Post in 1840 that the postal service became affordable to most ordinary folk, making the sending of the anonymous St. Valentine’s Day card possible. All over the country printers started to mass-produce Valentines cards in the format we recognise today, complete with pre-prepared verses and pretty pictures, then in the 1840s, Esther A. Howland introduced this quaint English tradition to america and started selling the first mass-produced valentine's cards there. Howland, known as the “Mother of the Valentine,” made elaborate creations with real lace, ribbons and colourful pictures and Valentines Day really took off in America

Today, according to the Greeting Card Association, an estimated 1 billion Valentine’s Day cards are sent each year, making Valentine’s Day the second largest card-sending holiday of the year (only beaten by Christmas)

This continues to increase year on year, with gifts of chocolates, flowers and jewellery now accompanying the simple St. Valentine’s Day card.



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