I know you are going to see loads of cute valentines today so I thought I would give you something different – the origins of why we celebrate Valentine’s Day. Is it just a commercial holiday or is there more to the scramble to give candy, cards and roses?
We can start with the martyrs Valentine; history talks about three in particular. The first is Valentine of Rome who was interrogated by Claudius II who was impressed with him and tried personally to convert Valentine to Christianity to save his life. In true martyr form, Valentine refused to convert and instead tried to convert Claudius to Christianity. In return for this favor he was executed. But before he was, Valentine supposedly cured the jailer’s daughter of her blindness and this won legendary status. Valentine of Terni suffered similar fate under Roman Emperor Aurelian. And the third Valentine was martyred in Africa with little else known about him. The reason the three are spoken of so often as a group is because they were all martyred on February 14th!
Modern day Valentine’s Day’s roots were first hinted at in the late 1300′s in England when Chaucer wrote, in response to the engagement of Richard II and Anne of Bohemia, “For this was on seynt Volantynys day, Whan euery bryd comyth there to chese his make.” It is highly unlikely that birds would choose their mates so early in the season but this stanza stuck and thus Valentine’s Day as we know it began to evolve.
The widespread exchange of cards, sweets and nosegays became more prevalent in the United States when Esther Howland from Massachusetts began to mass produce Valentine cards. A full 25% of greeting cards purchased in the United States are Valentines.
So what is Valentine’s Day like around the world? In Italy it is exclusively for lovers; no kids, moms or others involved! In China it is also known as “Daughter’s Day” and on this day girls are encouraged to demonstrate their domestic skills. In Wales, lovers exchange carved and decorated wooden spoons. In Finland the day is known also as “Friends Day”. In Mexico gifts are delivered in the manner of our Secret Santas. In Brazil, the “Day of the Enamored” is celebrated on June 12th, just before the Day of St. Anthony who is the saint of marriages. In Denmark and Norway, lovers leave funny little anonymous poems for each other with the only clue to the author being the number of dots in the poem corresponding with the number of letters in the author’s name. If the recipient guesses correctly, they receive an Easter egg on Easter; otherwise they have to give an egg to the author. And in Japan, girls are the only gift givers and they have an interesting way of demonstrating their level of interest. If the intended recipient is a male with whom they do not have a romantic interest, they give “obligation chocolates” – store bought confections. BUT, if they do have a twinkle of an attraction for a guy, they make the chocolates themselves. Receiving such a gift is said to be quite the compliment.
Do you have any cultural of family traditions for Valentine’s Day? What do you do to make Valentine’s Day special?