Growing up, one of my favorite days at school was Valentine’s Day. Every year, my mom would help me decorate a cereal box and cut a hole in the front to make my own little mailbox. The kids would put their boxes on their desks, and then go to their classmates’ desks to deliver a valentine card that had been painstakingly chosen at the local big box store! Returning to our desks, we’d delight in opening each and every card addressed to us!
This leads me to wonder why we don’t do this as adults!
Where did this tradition start? The history is actually shrouded in mystery, but historians have done their best to estimate where this romantic tradition comes from!
We do know that Valentine was originally St. Valentine, a man who lived in ancient Rome. One theory is that Claudius II had outlawed marriage for young men, because single men made better soldiers, but St. Valentine continued to marry young couples in secret. Another theory is that it was St. Valentine of Terni, a bishop, who was actually the namesake for the holiday. Either way, he certainly is associated with romance!
February has long been considered a month to celebrate love. Everywhere you go you see couples of all ages out at romantic dinners, and the stores are positively covered in Valentine themed products! Personally, I couldn’t resist buying a garland made of little paper hearts and twinkle lights! The celebration of Valentine’s Day in February is actually a nod to the old pagan tradition of Lupercalia, a time when priests, called Luperci, would make animal sacrifices to improve fertility for the women in the village and the crops in the fields. At the end of the day, all the women would write their names on a slip of paper, and put it in a large clay urn. Each man would choose a slip at random, and these matches most often ended in marriage! Is this the ancient version of The Bachelor?
We know for sure that Valentine’s Day was celebrated in England in the Middle Ages, as the famous poet, Geoffrey Chaucer, recorded a celebration in 1375! He notes that all the birds have begun choosing mates on “Saynt Valentyne’s Day.” This tradition crossed the ocean with the founding of America, but Americans didn’t start exchanging Valentine’s en masse until the 1700s. Improvements to the postal system made the exchange easier. In 1840, Esther Howland began mass producing valentines with real lace and colorful pictures, but before that valentines were usually handmade! It wasn’t until the 1900s that improvements in printing technology began the nationwide mass production of Valentine cards and the tradition as we know it today!
While my valentines won’t be handmade, I will certainly be going to the store to purchase a box or two of valentines because who doesn’t love getting a nice note from a friend or coworker! Reignite that childhood tradition and bring a little joy to your workplace, or send some notes through the mail. If you’re feeling crafty, you can even make some valentines by hand.
Don’t forget to digitize your favorite Valentine’s Day photos and videos, or maybe you’ve been hanging on to a mixtape from an old Valentine. Maybe the maker of the mixtape is still your Valentine! In digital form, those warm fuzzy Valentine’s Day feelings can live forever, just like this romantic tradition that all started with St. Valentine of ancient Rome!