Thursday, February 14, 2013

A Short History Of Valentine's Day! (And Of Course, Some Trivia, Too!)

Happy Valentine’s Day, Readers!

Today is one of my favorite holidays! What’s not to love about expressing love for one another and eating chocolate? Plus, my black fur looks stunning in both red and pink! In honor of both this holiday and Pope Benedict XVI’s announcement that he will be resigning at the end of the month, I have decided to look into the history of this holiday, named for a Catholic saint!

According to, there are fourteen saints named Valentine, Valentin, or Valentina, and even one Pope named Valentine! Luckily for my research, only one of these Saint Valentines are celebrated on February 14th; St. Valentine of Rome. Even the Church itself cannot confirm that he is the St. Valentine associated with lovers and love and that naked baby with the cross bow, but since today is his feast day I am going to run with it, although there is not much to tell: St. Valentine was martyred on February 14th, around the year 270, under the Roman Emperor Claudius for assisting Catholics in their plight against the Romans and for refusing to renounce his Catholic faith. It was a common fate among Catholics who lived during the time of the early Roman Empire.

Another tradition of the Roman Empire was the Feast of Lupercalia on February 15th, which was essentially an ancient (around 730 B.C. is when it is reported to have started) mating ritual where men essentially drew a woman’s name from a hat and romanced her in the Roman tradition – which, if you have ever watched Spartacus on STARZ, you understand to mean fornicated with her at every opportunity. Catholic priests were horrified by this tradition and many of them would substitute the name of a saint for the name of a local woman – thus explains one Valentine’s Day tradition, expressing love for the object of your desires and affection; it was just one more (successful) attempt to Christianize the pagan holidays of the time. (Seriously, does anyone still celebrate Lupercalia?).

Another reason St. Valentine is associated with love and marriage is the reason he was martyred; the assistance he gave to Catholics – in direct opposition to the Roman Emperor Claudius II – was to marry them. Emperor Claudius II felt that unmarried men without children made the best soldiers because, as is true today, men without loved ones are thought to be better in combat since it is presumed that they will concentrate all of their thoughts on battle and not on their wives and children back home. In ancient times, unmarried men without children were also considered disposable; if they died in battle, they died a hero’s death without leaving a widow and children in need of financial assistance. Apparently, Roman leaders were not the sentimental sort. With this logic in mind, Claudius II is said to have passed a law forbidding young men to marry; Valentine disobeyed that law and married young sweethearts anyway, which led to his imprisonment and untimely death.

It is rumored that while Valentine was in jail, he himself fell in love with the jailor’s daughter (this was allowed in the early Catholic Church, as priests were allowed to marry back then). On the eve of his execution, St. Valentine purportedly wrote a letter expressing his eternal love for the young woman, signing it “from your Valentine”. The tradition that follows from this legend is the giving of Valentine’s Day cards. A NicholasSparks novel could not possibly have a sadder or more enduring ending! But wait, there’s more!

But first an animated recap of the story thus far...

It was under Pope Gelasius (492 – 496) that February 14th was declared the Feast day of St. Valentine and celebrations of love and affection were outlawed by the church, having been deemed unchristian in spirit, since they were rooted in the feat of Lupricalia, which was still widely celebrated. It was not until the Middle Ages that Valentine’s Day expressions of love regained their popularity, which some credit to the British Duke, Charles of Orleans, who sent his wife a Valentine’s greeting while imprisoned in the Tower of London in 1415. (What is it about love letters from prison that bring out the romantic in people?). This love letter – a poem, actually – is the oldest known written Valentine in existence and is preserved as a part of the Manuscript Collection of the British Library in London, England. Knowing this makes me feel like less of a pack-rat for saving all of my past years’ Valentine’s cards!

By the 1700’s it became popular among people of all social classes to exchange Valentine’s Day sentiments, although they were not written down due to the high rate of illiteracy that plagued society and the even higher costs of printing and postage. In 1840, the mass-produced Valentine was created when American Esther A. Howland created greetings out of lace, ribbons, and other fancies that caught consumers’ eyes. She presumably sold them, as these materials were not cheap. It was not until the early 1900’s that printed Valentine’s were commonly exchanged, popular due to the decreased cost of printing and the Victorian era tradition of not publicly expressing affection for another. Today, Valentine’s Day sees an estimated one BILLION greeting cards sent and exchanged, making it the second most profitable holiday for Hallmark, American Greetings, and the like (Christmas is first).

As my Valentine’s gift to you, dear readers, I will leave you with some fun, trivial facts (followed by my opinion) about this day to pass along to the ones you love. (Hey, it’s cheaper than buying a card!).

FACT: 85% of Valentine’s Day cards are purchased by women.
Tazi’s Opinion: Many of these are purchased on behalf of their cats

FACT: In Korea, single people who do not receive Valentines eat black noodles to mourn their relationship status
Tazi’s Opinion: It’s good to know that Americans don’t have a lock on such pathetic behavior.

FACT: Teachers receive the most Valentine’s Day card than any other demographic; children are second
Tazi’s Opinion: Those 3” x 2” pieces of cheap cardboard that kids are forced to exchange with everyone in the class should not count!

FACT: The heart is associated with Valentine’s Day because the ancients believed that the heart is where the soul (and the source of emotions) resided.
Tazi’s Opinion: The pancreas would make a better choice, since it actually is heart-shaped…unlike the heart.

FACT: During the 19th century, doctors prescribed chocolate as a cure for heartbreak and loneliness
Tazi’s Opinion: I think this is a great idea! I also think that citizens should be able to write off the cost of Godiva confectioneries as a medical expense on their tax returns.

Happy Valentine’s Day to all!


With gracious thanks to and for statistical information and fact verification.

Ask Tazi! is ghostwritten by a human with a Bachelors of Arts in Communications. Tazi-Kat is not really a talking feline.


  1. Here is an animated video version on history of valentine:
    It tells exactly how Valentine was captured by Claudius, and was executed, right after he wrote the eternally remembered 'from your Valentine' letter.

    Feel free to embed the video, it is using CC attribution.

    1. Thank you! I will update this article with your video and acknowledgement ASAP!