Each year as Valentine’s Day approaches, people all over the world are out buying chocolates, flowers, and jewelry to give to the ones they care about to express their love. But how did this holiday come about, who is St. Valentine, and why do we give each other gifts on this day? A lot of the history of this special day is hidden in mystery, but there are many things we do know about this celebration on February 14.
There are many legends surrounding St. Valentine and the beginnings of this celebration. The problem is worsened by the fact that there are actually three different St. Valentines recognized by the Catholic Church. One story holds that the Roman Empire outlawed marriage so that it would be easier to recruit single men as soldiers. St. Valentine performed weddings in secret during this time and was killed when he was discovered.
From Your Valentine
The legend continues that, while in jail, he fell in love with the jailor’s daughter who visited him. Before being put to death, he sent her a note which he signed, ‘From Your Valentine.’ He was apparently put to death in the middle of February, and that, some believe, is where the date of this celebration originated.
Another legend, which explains the hearts that have become a traditional symbol, is that St. Valentine was rejected by his mistress, and so cut out his own heart to send to her.
The early history of this day is murky, but Valentine’s Day greetings were known as far back as the middle ages. It is commonly known, however, that by the seventeenth century, Valentine’s Day began to gain popularity in Great Britain, when people exchanged small gifts and letters showing their affection. This practice continued to grow and spread and by end of the century, printed sentiments came to be popular, in what has come to be known as Valentine’s cards.
According to the Greeting Card Association, an estimated one billion valentine cards are sent each year, making Valentine’s Day the second largest card-sending holiday of the year behind Christmas. Interestingly, with all the hustling that men do to buy gifts on this special day, about 85% of the Valentine’s Day cards are actually purchased by women. With all that, according to the same source, men spend about twice as much money on this day as women.
After all, a ten-pound box of chocolates and a dozen roses cost a lot more than a Valentine’s Day card.