Whether you love it or loathe it, there’s no escaping Valentine’s Day. Emails with gift suggestions are landing thick and fast in my inbox, and the supermarkets have their usual displays of overpriced chocolates and flowers. They are nothing if not predictable. At the risk of sounding like a right old misery, I really don’t see the need to splash out on gifts and cards on one particular day of the year. It has become a money-making event, like just about every other occasion in the calendar. But the day that’s synonomous with hearts and flowers actually has rather dark origins.
Valentine’s Day is thought to have originated from the pagan festival of Lupercalia. It marked the official start of springtime for ancient Romans. Young men would strip naked and use goat or dog skin whips to slap the backsides of young women in order to improve their fertility (sounds a bit kinky to me!). Later in the day, according to legend, all the young women in the city would place their names in a big urn. The city’s bachelors would each choose a name and become paired with his chosen woman. These matches often ended in marriage.
Lupercalia survived the initial rise of Christianity, but circa AD 496 Pope Gelasius declared February 14th St. Valentine’s Day. This effectively “Christianised” the popular pagan festival.
The Catholic Church recognizes at least three different saints named Valentine or Valentinus, all of whom were martyred. One legend contends that Valentine was a priest who served during the third century in Rome. When Emperor Claudius II decided that single men made better soldiers than those with wives and families, he outlawed marriage for young men. Valentine defied Claudius and continued to perform marriages for young lovers in secret. When Valentine’s actions were discovered, Claudius ordered his execution.
Other stories suggest that Valentine may have been killed for attempting to help Christians escape Roman prisons. According to one legend, an imprisoned Valentine actually sent the first “valentine” greeting himself after he fell in love with a young woman – possibly his jailor’s daughter – who visited him during his captivity. Before his death, it’s alleged that he wrote her a letter signed “from your Valentine”. This expression is still used today.
Valentine greetings were popular as far back as the Middle Ages, although written Valentine’s notes didn’t begin to appear until after 1400. The first recorded note was a poem written in 1415 by Charles, Duke of Orleans, to his wife while he was imprisoned in the Tower of London following his capture at the Battle of Agincourt. The greeting is now part of the manuscript collection of the British Library in London.
In the mid 18th century the passing of love-notes became popular in England – a precursor to the St Valentine’s Day card as we know it today. Early ones were made of lace and paper. In 1797, the The Young Man’s Valentine Writer was published, suggesting appropriate rhymes and messages. As postal services became more affordable, the anonymous St Valentine’s Day card became possible. By the early 19th century, they had become so popular that factories start to mass produce them. In the 1840s, Esther A. Howland began selling the first mass-produced cards in America. Howland made elaborate creations with real lace, ribbons and colorful pictures known as “scrap.”
Around one billion cards are now sent for Valentine’s Day each year. It is the second-biggest card-exchanging holiday after Christmas, when about 2.6 billion cards are sent annually. Last year the average spend on Valentine’s Day in the UK was £45, but people in Preston were the most generous, spending on average £53!
People are now purchasing Valentine’s Day gifts for a number of different people in their lives. Galentine’s Day is only a few years old, but it’s an increasingly popular holiday. As the name would suggest, it’s a day for women to celebrate their female friendships. Rather than taking place on the same day, Galentine’s Day is on Feb13th so that women can still celebrate Valentine’s Day with their romantic partners. Data from Pinterest reveals that searches for “Galentine’s Day Ideas” have seen a whopping 1780 per cent year-on-year increase!
Pets are getting in on the action too. In 2016, a reported 19 percent of people bought Valentine’s Day gifts for their furry friends for a total of $681 million!
Over half of Americans are single, and many choose to celebrate Valentine’s Day. Singles Awareness Day was created as a reaction to Valentine’s Day and is celebrated on February 15th.
Couples who get married on February 14th are 37 percent more likely to get divorced. They are also 45 per cent less likely to make it to their third anniversary than couples who marry on other days. The study by the University of Melbourne looked at more than 1.1 million Dutch weddings. It found that six per cent of Valentine’s Day marriages had failed within three years, compared to the four per cent average. One of the reasons is thought to be people rushing to get married on Feb 14th. The study found that couples who tie the knot on Valentine’s Day are more likely to have lived together for less than a year.