By Erin Keating
Today, Valentine’s Day is a massive consumer holiday as couples spend money on cards, flowers, candy, and other presents to show their affections. Even for those who are single, Valentine’s Day has become a sort of single-awareness day, spent treating yourself or friends – ala Galentine’s Day from Parks and Recreation. Despite popular belief, this holiday wasn’t created to increase Hallmark’s stock. In fact, the holiday can be traced back to an ancient pagan festival in Rome.
The earliest connection to Valentine’s Day is the pagan festival of Lupercalia which was held in mid-February by the ancient Romans. The festival was designed to bring fertility to young women and involved animal sacrifices and wild celebration. Historians believe that the Christian’s chose mid-February as the Feast of St. Valentine in order to Christianize the holiday – similar to how they chose the end of December to celebrate Christmas in order to Christianize the pagan solstice festival.
Although there are several St. Valentines in the Catholic history, it is generally accepted that the one honored with the feast day performed marriage rites for young Roman soldiers under the rule of Emperor Claudius II. The emperor, determined to expand Rome, believed that marriage undermined the morale of his young soldiers by making them homesick and half-hearted. So, he banned marriage for his soldiers to prevent it from getting in the way of their wartime responsibilities. St. Valentine was eventually caught performing these secret marriages and put to death by the emperor. It is said that the young lovers whom he married brought him flowers and cards to show their support for him. These all have led to the traditions we see in our Valentine’s Day today.
Valentine’s Day has taken a long time to become the consumer holiday it is now. It was declared Feb. 14 by Pope Gelasius at the end of the 5th century; however, it was not until the 15th century that the first written Valentine’s Day cards were seen. In the mid-19th century, Valentine’s Day cards were first mass produced in America. According to Nancy Rosin, a leading expert and collector of historic valentines, the boom of Valentine’s Day cards coincided with the Civil War with cards called the “Soldier’s Tent” that opened up to reveal a soldier writing in his tent with the shadow of his wife in the background. Today, about 180 million Valentine’s Day cards are exchanged annually, and over thirteen billion dollars are spent on Valentine’s Day as a whole, making it one of the biggest consumer holidays of the year.
The “Soldier’s Tent” Valentine’s Day card