Valentine’s Day… Where did it all begin?

For the cynical among us, Valentine’s Day is yet another excuse to be sold to. Cards, flowers, chocolates, expensive dinners and hours spent deliberating whether to buy a present or risk spending the night on the sofa… Surely this was all a marketing man’s dream and set up for us to fail?

It would seem not so. Here at Bullet, we took a little look into the history of 14th February.

There are at least three saints with the name Valentine – the most famous being a Christian priest who lived in Rome in the third century. Given that be seems to have been imprisoned, beaten with clubs and eventually beheaded on the orders of the Emperor Claudius II, all for being a Christian: it doesn’t bode well for the story of the saint of love.

But his execution coincided with the pagan festival of Lupercalia, dedicated to Juno, the goddess of women and fertility. To celebrate the festival, boys were encouraged to draw from a jar the names of girls written on slips of paper. After Pope Gelasius set aside the day to honour St Valentine in 496, the saint gradually became adopted as the patron saint of lovers.

It was some years later when Valentine’s Day became more mainstream. Rather than a card manufacturer coin the practice of sending cards, it is thought that the first man to send a Valentine note was a Frenchman. Charles, Duke of Orleans, was imprisoned in the Tower of London after the Battle of Agincourt in 1415. During his 25 year imprisonment he wrote 60 love poems addressed to his wife, which are claimed as the first formal “valentines”. One even refers to her as “Ma tres doulce Valentinée”.

In the 1840s, a young American woman, Esther Howland (1828-1904), received an English Valentine and decided to introduce the tradition to the United States. She produced cards carrying messages like “Weddings now are all the go, Will you marry me or no”.
More than a century later a billion cards are sent each year worldwide.

Tracey O’Connor – Bullet

With credits to fact-finders Molly Oldfield and John Mitchinson