Valentine’s Day

Valentine’s Day
Valentine's Day
Saint Valentine of Terni and his disciples. 14th Century France. Richard de Montbaston.
Also called St Valentine’s Day
Observed by Western and Western-influenced cultures
Type Cultural, multinational
Significance Lovers express their feelings to each other
Date February 14
Observances Sending greeting cards and gifts, dating.
Related to The Night of Sevens, a Chinese holiday that also relates to love. White Day, a similar holiday celebrated in Japan and Korea one month after Valentine’s Day.

Valentine’s Day is a holiday celebrated on February 14. It is the traditional day on which lovers express their love for each other; sending Valentine’s cards, or gifting candy. It is very common to present flowers on Valentine’s Day. The holiday is named after two among the numerous Early Christian martyrs named Valentine. The day became associated with romantic love in the circle of Geoffrey Chaucer in High Middle Ages, when the tradition of courtly love flourished.

The day is most closely associated with the mutual exchange of love notes in the form of “valentines.” Modern Valentine symbols include the heart-shaped outline and the figure of the winged Cupid. Since the 19th century, handwritten notes have largely given way to mass-produced greeting cards.[1] The mid-nineteenth century Valentine’s Day trade was a harbinger of further commercialized holidays in the United States to follow.[2] The U.S. Greeting Card Association estimates that approximately one billion valentines are sent each year worldwide, making the day the second largest card-sending holiday of the year behind Christmas. The association estimates that women purchase approximately 85 percent of all valentines.[3]

Contents

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History

Numerous early Christian martyrs were named Valentine. Until 1969, the Catholic Church formally recognized eleven Valentine’s Days. The Valentines honored on February 14 are:

  • Valentine of Terni (Valentinus ep. Interamnensis m. Romae): He became bishop of Interamna (modern Terni) about AD 197 and is said to have been killed during the persecution of Emperor Aurelian. He is also buried on the Via Flaminia, but in a different location than Valentine of Rome. His relics are at the Basilica of Saint Valentine in Terni (Basilica di San Valentino).

The Catholic Encyclopedia also speaks of a third saint named Valentine who was mentioned in early martyrologies under date of 14 February. He was martyred in Africa with a number of companions, but nothing more is known about him.

Some sources say the Valentine linked to romance is Valentine of Rome, others say Valentine of Terni.[citation needed] Some scholars (such as the Bollandists[citation needed]) have concluded that the two were originally the same person. In any case, no romantic elements are present in the original Early Medieval biographies of either of these martyrs.

An overview of attested traditions relevant to the holiday is presented below, with the legends about Valentine himself discussed in the end.

February fertility festivals

Though popular modern sources link unspecified Graeco-Roman February holidays alleged to be devoted to fertility and love to St Valentine’s Day, Jack Oruch has demonstrated[4] that prior to Chaucer, no links between the Saints named Valentinus and romantic love existed. Thus whether or not in the ancient Athenian calendar, the period between mid-January and mid-February was the month of Gamelion, was dedicated to the sacred marriage of Zeus and Hera is immaterial.

In Ancient Rome, February 15 was Lupercalia, an archaic rite connected to fertility, without overtones of romance. Plutarch wrote:

Lupercalia, of which many write that it was anciently celebrated by shepherds, and has also some connection with the Arcadian Lycaea. At this time many of the noble youths and of the magistrates run up and down through the city naked, for sport and laughter striking those they meet with shaggy thongs. And many women of rank also purposely get in their way, and like children at school present their hands to be struck, believing that the pregnant will thus be helped in delivery, and the barren to pregnancy.[6]

The word Lupercalia comes from lupus, or wolf, so the holiday may be connected with the legendary wolf that suckled Romulus and Remus. Priests of this cult, luperci would travel to the lupercal, the cave where the she-wolf who reared Romulus and Remus allegedly lived, and sacrifice animals (two goats and a dog). The blood would then be scattered in the streets, to bring fertility and keep the wolves away from the fields. [7] Lupercalia was a festival local to the city of Rome. The more general Festival of Juno Februa, meaning “Juno the purifier “or “the chaste Juno,” was celebrated on February 13-14. Pope Gelasius I (492-496) abolished Lupercalia.

Chaucer’s love birds

A portrait of English poet Geoffrey Chaucer by Thomas Hoccleve (1412). The earliest known link between Valentine's Day and romance is found in Chaucer's Parliament of Foules

A portrait of English poet Geoffrey Chaucer by Thomas Hoccleve (1412). The earliest known link between Valentine’s Day and romance is found in Chaucer’s Parliament of Foules

The first recorded association of Valentine’s Day with romantic love is in Parlement of Foules (1382) by Geoffrey Chaucer:[5]

For this was on seynt Volantynys day
Whan euery bryd comyth there to chese [choose] his make [mate].

This poem was written to honor the first anniversary of the engagement of King Richard II of England to Anne of Bohemia[8]. A treaty providing for a marriage was signed on May 2, 1381.[9] (When they were married eight months later, he was 13 or 14. She was 14.)

On the liturgical calendar, May 2 is the saints’ day for Valentine of Genoa. This St. Valentine was an early bishop of Genoa who died around AD 307.[10][11] Readers incorrectly assumed that Chaucer was referring to February 14 as Valentine’s Day. However, mid-February is an unlikely time for birds to be mating in England.[6]

Chaucer’s Parliament of Foules is generally set in a supposed context of an old tradition, but in fact there was no such tradition before Chaucer. The speculative explanation of sentimental customs, posing as historical fact, had their origins among eighteenth-century antiquaries, notably Alban Butler, the author of Butler’s Lives of Saints, and have been perpetuated even by respectable modern scholars. Most notably, “the idea that Valentin’e Day customed perpetuated those of the Roman Lupercalia has been accepted uncritically and repeated, in various forms, up to the present”[7]

Medieval and modern times

Swedish calendar showing St Valentine's Day, February 14, 1712

Swedish calendar showing St Valentine’s Day, February 14, 1712

Using the language of the law courts for the rituals of courtly love, a “High Court of Love” was established in Paris on Valentine’s Day in 1400. The court dealt with love contracts, betrayals, and violence against women. Judges were selected by women on the basis of a poetry reading.[12][13]

The earliest surviving valentine is a fifteenth-century rondeau written by Charles, Duke of Orleans to his “valentined” wife, which commences.

Je suis desja d’amour tanné
Ma tres doulce Valentinée… (Charles d’Orléans, Rondeau VI, lines 1–2)

At the time, the duke was being held in the Tower of London following his capture at the Battle of Agincourt, 1415.[8]

Valentine’s Day is mentioned ruefully by Ophelia in Hamlet (1600-01): “Tomorrow is Saint Valentine’s Day.”

In 1836, relics of St. Valentine of Rome were donated by Pope Gregory XVI to the Whitefriar Street Carmelite Church in Dublin, Ireland. In the 1960s, the church was renovated and relics restored to prominence.[14] In American culture,Saint Valentine’s Day was remade in the 1840s; as a writer in GFTraham’s American Monthly observed in 1849, “Saint Valentine’s Day… is becoming,nay it has become, a national holyday.”[9]

In the 1969 revision of the Roman Catholic Calendar of Saints, the feastday of Saint Valentine on 14 February was removed from the General Roman Calendar and relegated to particular (local or even national) calendars for the following reason: “Though the memorial of Saint Valentine is ancient, it is left to particular calendars, since, apart from his name, nothing is known of Saint Valentine except that he was buried on the Via Flaminia on 14 February.”[10] The feast day is still celebrated in Balzan and in Malta where relics of the saint are claimed to be found, and also throughout the world by Traditionalist Catholics who follow the older, pre-Vatican II calendar.

Valentine's Day postcard, circa 1910

Valentine’s Day postcard, circa 1910

Tree decorated for Valentine's Day

Tree decorated for Valentine’s Day

The reinvention of Saint Valentine’s Day in the 1840s has been traced by Leigh Eric Schmidt.[11] In the United States, the first mass-produced valentines of embossed paper lace were produced and sold shortly after 1847 by Esther Howland (18281904) of Worcester, Massachusetts. Her father operated a large book and stationery store, and she took her inspiration from an English valentine she had received. Since 2001, the Greeting Card Association has been giving an annual “Esther Howland Award for a Greeting Card Visionary.”

In the second half of the twentieth century, the practice of exchanging cards was extended to all manner of gifts in the United States, usually from a man to a woman. Such gifts typically include roses and chocolates. In the 1980s, the diamond industry began to promote Valentine’s Day as an occasion for giving jewelry.

The day has come to be associated with a generic platonic greeting of “Happy Valentine’s Day.” As a joke, Valentine’s Day is also referred to as “Singles Awareness Day.”

In some North American elementary schools, students are asked to give a Valentine card or small gift to everyone in the class. The greeting cards of these students often mention what they appreciate about each other.

The evolving legend

The Early Medieval acta of either Saint Valentine were excerpted by Bede and briefly expounded in Legenda Aurea,[12] According to that version, St Valentine was persecuted as a Christian and interrogated by Roman Emperor Claudius II in person. Claudius was impressed by Valentine and had a discussion with him, attempting to get him to convert to Roman paganism in order to save his life. Valentine refused and tried to convert Claudius to Christianity instead. Because of this, he was executed. Before his execution, he is reported to have performed a miracle by healing the blind daughter of his jailer.

Legenda Aurea still providing no connections whatsoever with sentimental love, appropriate lore has been embroidered in modern times to portray Valentine as a priest who refused an unattested law attributed to Roman Emperor Claudius II, allegedly ordering that young men remain single. The Emperor supposedly did this to grow his army, believing that married men did not make for good soldiers. The priest Valentine, however, secretly performed marriage ceremonies for young men. When Claudius found out about this, he had Valentine arrested and thrown in jail. In an embellishment to The Golden Legend, on the evening before Valentine was to be executed, he wrote the first “valentine” himself, addressed to a young girl variously identified as his beloved,[13] as the jailer’s daughter whom he had befriended and healed,[14] or both.[15] It was a note that read “From your Valentine.”[13]

In another apparently modern embellishment, while Valentine was imprisoned, people would leave him little notes, folded up and hidden in cracks in the rocks around his cell. He would find them and offer prayers for them.[citation needed]

Valentine’s Day and its equivalents in other cultures

Part of a series on Love
Historically
Courtly love
Greek love
Religious love
Types of emotion
Erotic love
Platonic love
Familial love
Puppy love
Romantic love
See also
Unrequited love
Problem of love
Sexuality
Sexual intercourse
Valentine’s Day

In the West

Valentine’s Day also has regional traditions in the UK. In Norfolk a character called ‘Jack’ Valentine knocks on the rear door of houses leaving sweets and presents for children. Although he was leaving treats, many children were scared of this mystical person.

In Wales many people celebrate Dydd Santes Dwynwen (St Dwynwen’s Day) on 25 January instead of or as well as St Valentine’s Day. The day commemorates St Dwynwen, the patron saint of Welsh lovers.

In France, a traditionally Catholic country, Valentine’s Day is known simply as “Saint Valentin“, and is celebrated in much the same way as other western countries.

In Denmark & Norway Valentine’s Day (14 Feb) is known as Valentinsdag. It is not celebrated to a large extent, but a lot people take time to eat a romantic dinner with their partner, to send a card to a secret love or give a red rose to their loved one. In Sweden it is called Alla hjärtans dag (“All Hearts’ Day”) and was launched in the 1960s by the flower industry’s commercial interests, and due to influence of American culture. It is not an official holiday, but its celebration is recognized and sales of cosmetics and flowers for this holiday are only bested by those for Mother’s Day.

In Finland, Valentine’s Day is called Ystävänpäivä which translates into “Friend’s day”. As the name says, this day is more about remembering your friends than your loved ones.

In Slovenia, a proverb says that “St Valentine brings the keys of roots,” so on February 14, plants and flowers start to grow. Valentine’s Day has been celebrated as the day when the first works in the vineyards and on the fields commence. It is also said that birds propose to each other or marry on that day. Nevertheless, it has only recently been celebrated as the day of love. The day of love is traditionally 12 March, the Saint Gregory‘s day. Another proverb says “Valentin – prvi spomladin” (“Valentine — first saint of spring”), as in some places (especially White Carniola) Saint Valentine marks the beginning of spring.

In Romania, the traditional holiday for lovers is Dragobete, which is celebrated on February 24. It is named after a character from Romanian folklore who was supposed to be the son of Baba Dochia. Part of his name is the word drag (“dear”), which can also be found in the word dragoste (“love”). In recent years, Romania has also started celebrating Valentine’s Day, despite already having Dragobete as a traditional holiday. This has drawn backlash from many groups, reputable persons and institutions[16] but also nationalist organizations like Noua Dreaptǎ, who condemn Valentine’s Day for being superficial, commercialist and imported Western kitsch.

In Turkey, Valentine’s Day is called Sevgililer Günü which translates into “Sweethearts’ Day”.

According to Jewish tradition the 15th day of the month of Av – Tu B’Av (usually late August) is the festival of love. In ancient times girls would wear white dresses and dance in the vineyards, where the boys would be waiting for them (Mishna Taanith end of Chapter 4). In modern Israeli culture this is a popular day to pronounce love, propose marriage and give gifts like cards or flowers.

In the Americas

The exchange of chocolates and flowers is traditional on Valentine's Day.

The exchange of chocolates and flowers is traditional on Valentine’s Day.

In Brazil, the Dia dos Namorados (lit. “Day of the enamored”, or “Boyfriend’s/Girlfriend’s Day”) is celebrated on June 12, when couples exchange gifts, chocolates, cards and flower bouquets. This day was chosen probably because it is the day before the Saint Anthony‘s day, known there as the marriage saint, when many single women perform popular rituals, called simpatias, in order to find a good husband or a boyfriend.

In Colombia, the Día del amor y la amistad (lit. “Love and Friendship Day”) is celebrated on the third Friday and Saturday in September, because of commercial issues. In this country the Amigo secreto (“Secret friend”) tradition is quite popular, which consists of randomly assigning to each participant a recipient who is to be given an anonymous gift (similar to the Christmas tradition of Secret Santa).

In Asia

Thanks to a concentrated marketing effort, Valentine’s Day has emerged in Japan and Korea as a day on which women, and less commonly men, give candy, chocolate or flowers. It has become an obligation for many women to give chocolates to all male co-workers. In Japan this is known as giri-choko (義理チョコ), from the words giri (“obligation”) and choko, (“chocolate”). This contrasts with honmei-choko (本命チョコ); chocolate given to a loved one. Friends, especially girls, may exchange chocolate referred to as tomo-choko (友チョコ); from tomo meaning “friend”.

By a further marketing effort, a reciprocal day called White Day has emerged. On March 14, men are expected to return the favour to those who gave them chocolates on Valentine’s Day. Originally, the return gift was supposed to be white chocolate or marshmallows; hence “White Day”. However, lingerie and jewelry have become common gifts.

In South Korea, there is also Pepero Day, celebrated on November 11, when young couples give each other romantic gifts. There is an additional day for single people, Black Day, celebrated on April 14.

In Chinese culture, there is a counterpart to Valentine’s Day, called “The Night of Sevens” (七夕); according to legend the Cowherd and the Weaver Maid meet in Heaven on the 7th day of the 7th month of the lunar calendar. A slightly different version of this day is celebrated in Japan as Tanabata, on July 7th of the solar calendar.

In Western Asia

In Persian culture (Iran) Sepandarmazgan is a day for love, which is on 29 Bahman in the jalali solar calendar. The corresponding date in the Gregorian calendar is 17 February. Sepandarmazgan were held in the Great Persian Empire in the 20th century BC hundreds of years before its acknowledgement by western world.

This day is currently celebrated in Iran despite some restrictions made by government, and young Persian boys and girls may be seen on this day going out and buying gifts and celebrating.

See also

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Notes

  1. ^ Leigh Eric Schmidt, “The Fashioning of a Modern Holiday: St. Valentine’s Day, 1840-1870” Winterthur Portfolio 28.4 (Winter 1993), pp. 209-245.
  2. ^ Leigh Eric Schmidt, “The Commercialization of the calendar: American holidays and the culture of consumption, 1870-1930” Journal of American History 78.3 (December 1991) pp 890-98.
  3. ^ American Greeting Card Association website.
  4. ^ Jack B. Oruch, “St. Valentine, Chaucer, and Spring in February” Speculum 56.3 (July 1981:534-565)
  5. ^ Oruch, Jack B., “St. Valentine, Chaucer, and Spring in February,” Speculum, 56 (1981): 534-65. Oruch’s survey of the literature finds no association between Valentine and romance prior to Chaucer. He concludes that Chaucer is likely to be, “the original mythmaker in this instance.”[1]
  6. ^ Kelly, Henry Ansgar, Chaucer and the Cult of Saint Valentine (Brill Academic Publishers, 1997), ISBN 90-04-07849-5. Kelly gives the saint’s day of the Genoese Valentine as May 3 and also claims that Richard’s engagement was announced on this day. [2]
  7. ^ Oruch 1981:539.
  8. ^ History Channel.
  9. ^ Quoted in Schmidt 1993:209.
  10. ^ Calendarium Romanum ex Decreto Sacrosancti Œcumenici Concilii Vaticani II Instauratum Auctoritate Pauli PP. VI Promulgatum (Typis Polyglottis Vaticanis, MCMLXIX), p. 117
  11. ^ Schmidt 1993:209-245.
  12. ^ Legenda Aurea, “Saint Valentine”.
  13. ^ a b Materials provided by American Greetings, Inc. to History.com
  14. ^ [3]
  15. ^ [4]
  16. ^ Valentine`s Day versus Dragobete (Romanian)

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