Like anything even remotely interesting, the origins of Valentine’s Day is a mixture of facts, uncertainties, love, blasphemy, rebellion, gruesome deaths and good old-fashioned capitalism. Cynics may deride the day as an invention designed to generate revenues for card and candy companies, but February isn’t all chalky candy hearts and decaying flowers. V-Day may now hold only romantic connotations, but its creation is much more sinister.
Currently, the Roman Catholic Church has three separate Saint Valentines who were all martyrs. According to myth, one of these Valentines was a priest who lived in third century Rome during the reign of Emperor Claudius II. The Golden Era of Rome was coming to an end. The Empire was too large for complete control and faced attacks from Gauls, Slavs, Huns, Turks and Mongolians. To keep up with the nearly continuous attacks, Claudius needed more soldiers to protect the Empire. Thinking that married men were too emotional and less willing to sacrifice their lives in bloody battles, Claudius outlawed marriage for young men. Valentine continued to perform illegal marriages for young soldiers in secret. When his treason was discovered, Claudius II had Valentine arrested. Under the order of Claudius, Valentine was beaten with clubs and then beheaded on February 14.
Another legend asserts Valentine was the first to send a “valentine” letter to a lover. While incarcerated, Valentine fell in love with a young woman. Some myths claim she was the jailor’s daughter who would visit with the prisoner. Another legend asserts the jailor brought his daughter to Valentine because she was blind. The jailor had heard of Valentine’s spiritual abilities and hoped he could heal her. Valentine was able to restore the young woman’s sight and the two remained devoted to each other. Before his execution, Valentine wrote this young woman a letter, which he signed “From your Valentine.” This expression is still used today as a title of endearment.
A third legend claims Saint Valentine was a bishop in Italy during the Third century. He also has ties to love by being the first religious figure to oversee the marriage of a pagan man and a Christian woman. For this apparent blasphemy, Valentine was scourged, beaten and then beheaded by order of Placidus, Prefect of Interanma, Italy.
Valentine’s Day, in the traditional sense, began to gain popularity in Great Britain during the middle of the 18th century. During that time, friends and lovers would often exchange small gifts or notes expressing their endearment. By the end of the 18th century, improvements in the printing press increased the popularity of ready-made printed cards.
Commercial Valentine’s Day cards were invented in America during the 1840’s by a woman named Esther A. Howland. She is now regarded at the Mother of Valentines. After graduating from college at the age of 19, Howland received an intricate English valentine from one of her father’s business associates. Knowing she could create better cards than the one she received, Howland created a dozen samples for her brother to take on his sales trips. The brother returned with over $5,000 in advance sales. Howland then recruited her friends, and by utilizing an assembly line system, was able to create a business that saw annual profits exceeding $100,000.
According to the Greeting Card Association, Valentine’s Day is the second largest card-sending holiday, with an estimated one billion cards being mailed annually. The Greeting Card Association also says approximately 85 percent of those cards are purchased by women.
Should you find yourself alone and angry this February 14, do not despair. Don’t cry alone in your bedroom, overindulging in chocolate hearts and thinking about the sentimental cards you wish you had received. Thanks to the holiday’s rich history, you can celebrate Valentine’s Day in a very traditional sense, even while excruciatingly single: brutally beat someone for blasphemy or start a business just to one-up your dad’s friend. Perhaps a mass execution of your gangland rivals is in order. However, try to avoid execution. It’s even more painful than it looks.
Sources: History.com, VictorianTreasury.com,