In the midst of this retail bonanza, it’s easy to forget that Valentine's Day has religious roots.
Last year, Americans spent more than $14 billion on Valentine’s Day gifts, cards and flowers for their significant others, according to the National Retail Federation. In the midst of this retail bonanza, it’s easy to forget that this holiday has religious roots.
Who was St. Valentine?
At least three saints go by that name, all of them martyred in the third century, according to the Catholic Encyclopedia. Historians believe the one associated with the holiday may have been killed by the Roman Emperor Claudius around 270. Apparently, the emperor believed men who were unmarried made better soldiers, and thus, mandated that young men not be allowed to wed, according to research done by the History Channel. Valentine defied the decree and secretly performed marriages for young couples.
Is Valentine’s Day celebrated everywhere?
No. The countries where it has become custom are the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Canada, Mexico and Australia.
Why Feb. 14?
Some believe that is the date on which Valentine died or was buried. Others believe it may have been the “Christianization” of the pagan holiday Lupercalia, a fertility festival dedicated to the Roman god of agriculture and to Romulus and Remus, the founders of Rome.
How did it become associated with lovers?
The customs of “writing love letters and sending lovers’ tokens” are believed to have started in the Middle Ages, the Catholic Encyclopedia says. Apparently, the general belief in England and France at the time was that birds begin to pair in the middle of February. Legendary English author Geoffrey Chaucer makes reference to St. Valentine’s Day as the date upon “every foul cometh ther to choose his mate.”
Why give valentines?
The oldest known valentine was a poem written by Charles, Duke of Orleans, for his wife while he was imprisoned in the Tower of London in 1415, the History Channel says. But it didn’t become a custom to send notes or gifts until the 17th century, research shows.