February 14 is upon us once again, and lovers, friends, and suitors will be exchanging candy, flowers, and gifts in the name of St. Valentine. Why do we celebrate this holiday, and who is this patron saint? Legends abound because the history of Valentine’s Day is shrouded in mystery, but here are a few possible explanations.
The Legends of St. Valentine
One legend contends that Valentine was a priest who served 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 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. Valentine suffered martyrdom on the 14th day of February around the year 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 the jailor’s daughter who visited him during his confinement. Before his death, it is alleged that he wrote her a letter, which he signed, “From your Valentine,” an expression that is still used today.
When Did We Start Sending Cards?
The tradition of Valentine’s Day cards did not become widespread in the United States until the 1850s when Esther A. Howland, a Mount Holyoke graduate and native of Worcester, Massachusetts, began mass-producing them. Today, of course, the holiday has become a booming commercial success. Over 1 billion Valentine’s Day cards are sent every year in the U.S. alone.
Valentine’s Day Trivia
Q – According to English tradition, what happens to the first man a woman sees on Valentine’s Day?
A – She will marry him.
Q – What date was the first recorded Valentine sent?
A – 1415, by Charles, Duke of Orleans.
Q – What fruit is also known as the “love apple?”
A – Tomato.
Q – Sailors often scratched or carved designs on bone, tusk, or wood to give as a love token. What was this hobby called?
A – Scrimshaw.
Q – Phenethylamine is the natural chemical of what addictive sweet Valentine treat?
A – Chocolate.
Q – Why do “X”s represent kisses?
A – Our practice of using an “X” grew out of the medieval practice of letting those who could not write mark documents with an “X” to represent their names. This was done in the presence of witnesses, and a kiss was given upon the “X” to show sincerity. The “X” then became synonymous with the kiss in the minds of most people.
Q – What does it mean to a woman when a robin, sparrow, or goldfinch flies overhead on Valentine’s Day?
A – Some people used to believe that if a woman saw a robin flying overhead on Valentine’s Day, it meant she would marry a sailor. If she saw a sparrow, she would marry a poor man and be very happy. If she saw a goldfinch, she would marry a millionaire.