The History of Valentine’s Day: Sweethearts Owe Holiday to Faunus, Claudius III and Valentinius

Valentine’s Day is the second busiest greeting card day on the U.S. calendar. It’s also a big day for florists, chocolatiers and jewelers. Here’s how the original day for lovers evolved into a retail extravaganza.

Faunus, the Roman God of Animal Husbandry & Nature

Faunus, the Roman god of animal husbandry and the secrets of nature was central to the celebrations held on February 15th, called the Festival of Lupercalia that heralded the return of spring as well as fertility. During the festival, the Priests of Luperci, young Roman men of noble birth, sacrificed a goat for fertility and a dog for purity. Townspeople purified their homes, often stale after the long winter. In the streets of Rome, boys chased girls with strips of goat hide, slapping them in a way that was believed to improve fertility. Afterwards, the girls placed their names in an urn, and the boys chose, and sometimes marriage was the result.

The First Valentine

In the 3rd century AD, Claudius III, declaring that single soldiers fought better than married ones, tried to end the matchmaking portion of the festival, decreeing that young men could not get married. A Catholic Priest named Valentinius defied the order, marrying young couples in secret ceremonies. Claudius jailed the priest, and sentenced him to death. While in prison, Valentinius fell in love with his jailers blind daughter, and used his healing powers to restore her sight. The day before his beheading, on February 14th, 270 AD, Valentinuis sent his beloved the world’s first valentine in the form of a farewell note, which he signed, from your Valentinuis.

Valentine’s Day Becomes Official

In 498 AD, Pope Gelasius officially recognized Valentine’s Day on February 14th. In an effort to break with the holiday’s Pagan roots, Gelasius outlawed the Roman marriage lottery that had been part of the Festival of Lupercalia. By the Middle Ages, Valentinius had not only been sainted, but became example of the virtues most admired during those times.

Knights, Chaucer & Chickens

In the days of chivalry, St. Valentinuis was admired for the virtues that knights held dear-chivalry, honor, and courtly love that began with a written missive to the beloved. It was also believed that birds began their mating season in mid-February. Geoffrey Chaucer, author of The Canterbury Tales, was possibly the first writer to mention a link between Valentine’s Day and mating season with his poem, Parliament of Fowls: “For this was St. Valentine’s Day/When every Fowl cometh to choose his mate”.

The First Valentine Cards

In 1415, Charles, Duke of Orleans, was captured by the British at the Battle of Agincourt. Legend has it that, while imprisoned in the Tower of London, Charles sent his wife a love poem for Valentine’s Day. This potentially oldest surviving valentine is in a collection of manuscripts in the British Museum. By the early 17th century, the sending of Valentine’s Day cards was widespread throughout Britain. The earliest cards were usually handmade, but later, printed cards became available. The earliest cards usually consisted of original sentimental poetry, but as the holiday grew more popular, admirers borrowed from the poets, and Valentine Writers in the form of books full of sentiments specifically for use on Valentine cards appeared on the scene. Birds, especially doves, remained popular motifs, soon joined by Cupid, the ancient Roman god of love.

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