Valentine’s Day Legends and Truths
St. Valentine’s Day as a lovers’ festival dates at least from the 14th
century, and possibly from much earlier. Here are some fun tidbits about
the popular floral holiday.
• Valentine’s Day is thought to have
evolved from a spring holiday celebrated in the days of ancient Rome.
The feast of Lupercalia was celebrated on February 15 and honored the
god Lupercus, who protected the people and their herds from wolves.
On this day, dances were held for all the single young men
and women. A man would draw his partner’s name from a piece of papyrus
placed in a bowl. The man not only danced with his partner but was also
obligated to protect her throughout the new year, which began in March.
In many cases, the partners became sweethearts and soon
married. When the tradition of these dances was later revived in the
Middle Ages, a man would wear his sweetheart’s name on his sleeve. Even
today we refer to someone quick to show feeling as “wearing his heart on
• Another legend contends that
Valentine was a priest during the third century in Rome. Emperor
Claudius II decided that single men made better soldiers than those with
wives and families, so he outlawed engagement and marriage for young
men, which were his crop of potential soldiers.
Valentine, realizing the injustice of the decree, defied
Claudius and continued to perform marriages for young lovers in secret.
When Valentine’s actions were discovered, Claudius ordered that he be
put to death. He suffered martyrdom on the 14th day of February, about
the year A.D. 270.
• According to another legend,
Valentine actually sent the first ‘valentine’ greeting himself. While in
prison, it is believed that Valentine fell in love with a young girl who
may have been his jailer’s daughter and visited him during his
Before his death, it is alleged that he wrote her a letter,
which he signed ‘From your Valentine,’ an expression that is still used
• Another Roman legend of Saint
Valentine emphasizes his love for children. The priest often told them
stories and made them small bouquets from the flowers in his garden.
When he was imprisoned for refusing to worship pagan gods, the children
made bouquets of their own, adorning them with love notes and tossing
them through the prison bars. Then Valentine prayed for a miracle,
hoping that God would restore the sight of the jailer’s blind daughter.
The Emperor Claudius became enraged when the miracle occurred and both
the jailer and his daughter converted to Christianity. Condemned to die,
the priest sent the young girl a farewell message signed simply, “from
• The heart is the most common
symbol of romantic love. Some ancient cultures believed the human soul
lived in the heart. Others thought the heart was the source of emotions
and intelligence. Some believed the heart embodied a man’s truth,
strength and nobility.
The heart may be associated with love because the ancient
Greeks believed it was the target of Eros, who was known as Cupid to the
Romans. Anyone shot in the heart by one of Cupid’s gold-tipped arrows
would fall hopelessly in love. Because the heart is so closely linked to
love, it’s red color is thought to be the most romantic.
• The emotions evoked by red are
those that get the blood pumping, from love and courage to lust, rage
• The red rose, the ultimate symbol
of love, is said to have been created by Chloris, the Greek goddess of
flowers, out of the lifeless body of a nymph.
• Other flowers symbolizing love
include: red tulip (declaration of love); honeysuckle (bonds of love);
red carnation (passion, fascination, pure love); and larkspur (ardent
• The giving of candy on Valentine’s
Day became popular in the late 19th century when sugarcane cultivation
• An old English belief dictates
that birds pick their mates on Feb. 14.
• Over time, love notes sent to
sweethearts on February 14 became known as valentines, as did those who
sent them. Like the fresh bouquets fashioned by Saint Valentine,
anything symbolizing sweetness and beauty became an appropriate
gift—making candy and flowers traditional favorites to this day.
• Paper valentines became popular in
the 18th century. Before commercial printers created the colorful
heirlooms we now have from Victorian times, people created their own
valentines from paper scraps. American colonists spent cold winter
nights making paper cutouts featuring knot patterns and interlocking
hearts. Special verses were written inside the interlocking paths of
these “love knots.”
• The tradition of Valentine’s cards
did not become widespread in the United States until the 1850s, when
Esther A. Howland, a native of Worcester, Mass. and a graduate of Mount
Holyoke College in South Hadley, Mass., began mass-producing them.
• Hallmark, the world’s largest
greeting-card company, helped create the modern greeting-card industry,
pioneering the sale of inexpensive card-plus-envelope to replace the
postcards and elaborate valentines common to pre-World War I.
• Chantilly lace, a delicate bobbin
trim of flowers and scrolls, is a traditional background fabric for
cards, candy and flowers on Valentine’s Day.
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