Valentine’s Day: A Holiday Shrouded in Mystery

Did you know around 150 million Valentine’s Day cards are exchanged annually, making this holiday the second most popular card-sending holiday after Christmas? Believe it or not, there is some controversy as to how we actually got Valentine’s Day. The Catholic church recognizes three different...

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Did you know around 150 million Valentine’s Day cards are exchanged annually, making this holiday the second most popular card-sending holiday after Christmas?

Believe it or not, there is some controversy as to how we actually got Valentine’s Day. The Catholic church recognizes three different saints named Valentine, all of whom were martyred.

Early Legends

The most popular St. Valentine’s legend is set during the reign of Emperor Claudius II of Rome, who decided his soldiers would be more effective fighting for their mother country if they didn’t have ties to wives and children back home. Thus, he forbade any soldier to marry.

Valentine, seeing the injustice of the decree and understanding that this would have the exact opposite effect from the one intended, defied Claudius and conducted secret marriages among the military.

Claudius discovered his actions and had him put to death.

Another legend has Valentine rescuing Christians from Roman prisons, where the captives were often tortured before execution. He was subsequently imprisoned and martyred, but not after falling in love with his jailer’s blind daughter and healing her while in prison. From his cell, he sent her a letter signed “Your Valentine.”

However, historians believe that it was Chaucer and the romantic saps of the Middle Ages, more than the saint for whom this holiday is named, who rocketed Valentine’s Day into stardom.

The Middle Ages

Chaucer, in his late-1300s poem “Parliament of Fowls,” wrote the line “For this was on Saint Valentine’s Day, when every bird comes there to choose his mate.”

He was writing in an age when everyone was obsessed with “courtly love,” the tragic love of a knight for a noble lady whom he couldn’t marry because she was already married. Nevertheless, St. Valentine became a very popular saint of that era.

Those two things put together, historians believe, linked the feast of St. Valentine to romance and romantic notes. Why the day is specifically February 14 is uncertain, as there were several Feasts of St. Valentine.

At all events, the date and tradition stuck. So do something sweet for your loved one this Valentine’s Day, even if it’s just writing a short note to say how much they mean to you.

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