Valentine's Day Quick Facts

21 Jan 2013
Valentine's Day Quick Facts
Photo Credit: Goldmund-Istockphoto

Valentine’s Day is the day of love expressed. Every year on February 14, millions of cards decorated with lace, hearts, cupids and flowers are exchanged by lovers and friends, husbands and wives, students and teachers, children and parents, boys and girls. Although Valentine’s Day enjoys enormous popularity, surprisingly little is known about the man after whom the day is named.

Here are some answers to questions about the man traditionally called Saint Valentine and the day named after him.

Who Was Valentine?

Valentine was a priest and a physician who lived in Rome during the third century. At that time, Christianity was a minority religion and a persecuted faith. In A.D. 270, Emperor Claudius II ordered Valentine to be arrested and imprisoned, for allegedly marrying Christian couples and otherwise aiding Christians in general.

When he would not recant his actions, Valentine was put to death—on February 14. He was later declared a saint and a church was erected on the site of his burial plot in A.D. 350.

Why Is Valentine Associated With Romance?

The connection between Valentine and romance was made when a pre-Christian Roman celebration was combined with the martyrdom of Valentine. February 15 was the date set aside to honour the Roman god, Lupercus. On that day, young women would write love notes and deposit them in a large urn. The young men of Rome would take the notes out and then court the women whose message they had drawn.

When Christianity became the official religion of Rome, the church merged the Roman holiday with the martyrdom of Valentine on February 14, something that seemed to them appropriate.

How Did Valentine Become The Patron Saint Of Lovers?

According to legend, when Valentine was a priest in Rome, young men did not want to enlist in the army to fight the emperor’s wars. Claudius II, who was the emperor, ordered young men not to marry, believing that if they did not have lovers, they would be more willing to leave home for the battlefield. Moved by compassion for the young men and their sweethearts, Valentine married them secretly.

How Did Cupid Come To Be Associated With Valentine’s Day ?

Cupid is a product of Roman mythology, as the son of Venus, the goddess of love and beauty. In Greek mythology, the same figure is called Eros and he is the son of Aphrodite, their goddess of love and beauty.

How Did Valentine’s Day Get To Be Popularised?

Valentine’s Day was carried by Christians as they spread their faith across Europe. The day became especially popular in England and France. During the Middle Ages, when few people could read or write, friends said or sang their valentines to each other.

The earliest written valentines come from the fifteenth century and were written from prison by the French royal Charles, who was the Duke of Orleans. In 1415, Charles was captured by the English at the battle of Agincourt. While imprisoned in the Tower of London, he composed some beautiful valentines.

Valentine’s Day began to be widely celebrated in Great Britain in the seventeenth century, with men and women from all classes of society exchanging handwritten notes of affection.

By the eighteenth century, innovations in printing resulted in the production of Valentine’s Day cards. This allowed the British, who were traditionally more emotionally reserved, a socially approved way of expressing emotions.

Why Is The Letter X Associated With A Kiss?

The custom dates back to the early Christian era, when a cross mark, or an X, conveyed the force of a sworn oath. The cross referred to both the Cross of Calvary and the first letter of the Greek word for Christ, Xristos.

In days when few people could write, an X was a legally valid mark. To emphasise their complete contractual sincerity, they often kissed the X when an oath was sworn upon it. It was this practice of kissing the X which led to it becoming the symbol of a kiss.

Who Developed The First Commercial Valentine Card?

Esther A. Howland of Worcester, Massachusetts, is credited with developing America’s first Valentine’s Day cards in 1847. That year, she sold an astonishing $US5000 worth of cards. Howland’s fancy, colourful cards made Valentine’s Day extremely popular.

Soon, other manufacturers were producing cards. The commercial development of Valentine’s Day cards coincided with the regulating of the postal service. In 1847, the US Post office began to sell a five cent stamp, which would take a valentine card to any place in the country.

How Many Valentine’s Day Cards Are Sold Annually?

More than one billion Valentine’s Day cards are sold in the US each year, says the Hallmark Greeting Card Company. With the exception of Christmas, Americans exchange more cards on Valentine’s Day than at any other time of the year.


Jay Sheen