Valentine's Day

Valentine's Day

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AWARDCHESS
Feb 17, 2009, 12:05 PM |
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Valentine's Day

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Valentine's Day
Valentine's Day
Traditional symbols of Valentine's Day include hearts, doves, Cupid and love notes.
American postcard, circa 1900.
Also called St. Valentine's Day
Observed by Christian and Christian-influenced cultures
Type Christian, cultural, multinational
Significance Lovers express their feelings to each other
Date February 14
Observances Sending greeting cards and gifts, dating.

Valentine's Day or Saint Valentine's Day is a holiday celebrated on February 14 by many people throughout the world. In the West, it is the traditional day on which lovers express their love for each other by sending Valentine's cards, presenting flowers, or offering confectionery. 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 the 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, doves, and the figure of the winged Cupid. Since the 19th century, handwritten notes have largely given way to mass-produced greeting cards.[1] The sending of Valentines was a fashion in nineteenth-century Great Britain, and, in 1847, Esther Howland developed a successful business in her Worcester, Massachusetts home with hand-made Valentine cards based on British models. The popularity of Valentine cards in 19th century America was a harbinger of the future commercialization of holidays in the United States.[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, in the US, men spend on average twice as much money as women.[3]

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Saint Valentine

For more details on this topic, see Saint Valentine.

Numerous early Christian martyrs were named Valentine.[4] Until 1969, the Catholic Church formally recognized eleven Valentine's Days.[citation needed] The Valentines honored on February 14 are Valentine of Rome (Valentinus presb. m. Romae) and Valentine of Terni (Valentinus ep. Interamnensis m. Romae).[5] Valentine of Rome[6] was a priest in Rome who suffered martyrdom about AD 269 and was buried on the Via Flaminia. His relics are at the Church of Saint Praxed in Rome.[7] and at Whitefriar Street Carmelite Church in Dublin, Ireland.

Valentine of Terni[8] 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).[9]

The Catholic Encyclopedia also speaks of a third saint named Valentine who was mentioned in early martyrologies under date of February 14. He was martyred in Africa with a number of companions, but nothing more is known about him.[10]

No romantic elements are present in the original early medieval biographies of either of these martyrs. By the time a Saint Valentine became linked to romance in the fourteenth century, distinctions between Valentine of Rome and Valentine of Terni were utterly lost.[11]

In the 1969 revision of the Roman Catholic Calendar of Saints, the feastday of Saint Valentine on February 14 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 February 14."[12] The feast day is still celebrated in Balzan (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.

The Early Medieval acta of either Saint Valentine were excerpted by Bede and briefly expounded in Legenda Aurea.[13] 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,[14] as the jailer's daughter whom he had befriended and healed,[15] or both. It was a note that read "From your Valentine."[14]

Attested traditions

Lupercalia

Main article: Lupercalia

Though popular modern sources link unspecified Greco-Roman February holidays alleged to be devoted to fertility and love to St Valentine's Day, Professor Jack Oruch of the University of Kansas argued[16] that prior to Chaucer, no links between the Saints named Valentinus and romantic love existed. In the ancient Athenian calendar the period between mid-January and mid-February was the month of Gamelion, dedicated to the sacred marriage of Zeus and Hera.

In Ancient Rome, Lupercalia, observed February 13 through 15, was an archaic rite connected to fertility. 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.

It is a common opinion that the Christian church may have decided to celebrate Valentine's feast day in the middle of February in an effort to Christianize celebrations of the pagan Lupercalia. The Roman Catholic Church could not abolish the deeply rooted Lupercalia festival, so the church set aside a day to honor the Virgin Mary. [17]

Chaucer's love birds

While some claim the first recorded association of Valentine's Day with romantic love is in Parlement of Foules (1382) by Geoffrey Chaucer[18] this may be the result of misinterpretation. Chaucer wrote:

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

This poem was written to honor the first anniversary of the engagement of King Richard II of England to Anne of Bohemia.[19] A treaty providing for a marriage was signed on May 2, 1381.[20] (When they were married eight months later, he was 13 or 14, and she was 14.)

Readers have uncritically 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. Henry Ansgar Kelly has pointed out[21] that in 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.[22]

Chaucer's Parliament of Foules is set in a fictional 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 Valentine's Day customs perpetuated those of the Roman Lupercalia has been accepted uncritically and repeated, in various forms, up to the present"[23]

Medieval period and the English Renaissance

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.[24][25]

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.[26]

Valentine's Day is mentioned ruefully by Ophelia in Hamlet (1600-1601):

To-morrow is Saint Valentine's day,
All in the morning betime,
And I a maid at your window,
To be your Valentine.
Then up he rose, and donn'd his clothes,
And dupp'd the chamber-door;
Let in the maid, that out a maid
Never departed more.
(William Shakespeare, Hamlet, Act IV, Scene 5)

Valentine's Day postcard, circa 1910

Modern times

The reinvention of Saint Valentine's Day in the 1840s has been traced by Leigh Eric Schmidt.[27] As a writer in Graham's American Monthly observed in 1849, "Saint Valentine's Day... is becoming, nay it has become, a national holyday."[28] In the United States, the first mass-produced valentines of embossed paper lace were produced and sold shortly after 1847 by Esther Howland (1828-1904) of Worcester, Massachusetts. Her father operated a large book and stationery store, but Howland took her inspiration from an English valentine she had received, so clearly the practice of sending Valentine's cards had existed in England before it became popular in North America. The English practice of sending Valentine's cards appears in Elizabeth Gaskell's Mr. Harrison's Confessions (published 1851). Since 2001, the Greeting Card Association has been giving an annual "Esther Howland Award for a Greeting Card Visionary." 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, in the US, men spend in average twice as much money as women.[3]

Since the 19th century, handwritten notes have largely given way to mass-produced greeting cards.[29] The mid-nineteenth century Valentine's Day trade was a harbinger of further commercialized holidays in the United States to follow.[30]

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 packed in a red satin, heart-shaped box. 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, children decorate classrooms, exchange cards, and eat sweets. The greeting cards of these students often mention what they appreciate about each other.

The rise of Internet popularity at the turn of the millennium is creating new traditions. Millions of people use, every year, digital means of creating and sending Valentine's Day greeting messages such as e-cards, love coupons or printable greeting cards.

Antique and vintage Valentines, 1850–1950

Valentines of the mid-19th and early 20th centuries

Postcards, "pop-ups", and mechanical Valentines, circa 1900-1930

Black Americana and children's Valentines