Valentine's Day

From New World Encyclopedia
Valentine's Day
Valentine's Day
1909 Valentine's card
Also called Saint Valentine's Day or the Feast of Saint Valentine
Observed by People in many countries;
Catholic Church
Anglican Communion

Lutheran Church

Significance Feast day of Saint Valentine; the celebration of love and affection
  • February 14
    (fixed by the Catholic Church)
  • July 6
    (fixed by the Eastern Orthodox Church)
  • July 30
    (fixed by the Eastern Orthodox Church)
Observances Sending greeting cards and gifts, dating, church services

Valentine's Day, also called Saint Valentine's Day or the Feast of Saint Valentine, is celebrated annually on February 14. The day originated as a Western Christian feast day honoring one or two early saints named Saint Valentine (Italian: San Valentino, Latin: Valentinus). From the High Middle Ages his Saints' Day has been associated with a tradition of courtly love.

Today, Valentine's Day is recognized as a significant cultural, religious, and commercial celebration of romance and love in many regions around the world. While the primary focus is romantic love between unmarried men and women, there are also traditions that involve celebrating friendship. In particular, young children often exchange Valentine's Day cards with their kindergarten and elementary school classmates, nurturing future relationships that are important for a harmonious society.

Saint Valentine

Saint Valentine baptizing Saint Lucilla

Numerous early Christian martyrs were named Valentine. The Valentines honored on February 14 are Valentine of Rome (Valentinus presb. m. Romae) and Valentine of Terni (Valentinus ep. Interamnensis m. Romae), but they may well be the same man.

Valentine of Rome was a priest in Rome who was martyred in 269 C.E. and was buried on the Via Flaminia; he was added to the calendar of saints by Pope Gelasius I in 496 C.E. The relics of Saint Valentine were kept in the Church and Catacombs of San Valentino in Rome, which "remained an important pilgrim site throughout the Middle Ages until the relics of St. Valentine were transferred to the church of Santa Prassede during the pontificate of Nicholas IV."[1] His skull, crowned with flowers, is exhibited in the Basilica of Santa Maria in Cosmedin, Rome; other relics were taken to Whitefriar Street Carmelite Church in Dublin, Ireland, where they remain; this house of worship continues to be a popular place of pilgrimage, especially on Saint Valentine's Day, for those seeking love.[2]

Valentine of Terni became Bishop of Interamna and is said to have been martyred during the persecution under Emperor Aurelian in 273 C.E. He was buried on the Via Flaminia, but in a different location from Valentine of Rome. His relics are at the Basilica of Saint Valentine in Terni (Basilica di San Valentino).

Saint Valentine of Terni oversees the construction of his basilica at Terni, from a 14th-century French manuscript (BN, Mss fr. 185)

The inconsistency in the identification of the saint is replicated in the various vitae that are ascribed to him. Though the extant accounts of the martyrdoms of these two saints are of a late date and contain legendary elements, a common nucleus of fact may underlie the two accounts and they may refer to a single person. Bishop Valentine was born and lived in Interamna and while on a temporary stay in Rome he was imprisoned, tortured, and martyred there on February 14, 269. His body was hastily buried at a nearby cemetery and a few nights later his disciples retrieved his body and returned him home.[3]

Saint Valentine was persecuted as a Christian and interrogated by Roman Emperor Claudius II in person. Claudius was impressed by Valentine and had a discussion with him, attempting to get him to convert to Roman paganism in order to save his life. Valentine refused and tried to convert Claudius to Christianity instead. Because of this, he was executed. Before his execution, he is reported to have performed a miracle by healing Julia, the blind daughter of his jailer Asterius. The jailer's daughter and his forty-six member household (family members and servants) came to believe in Jesus and were baptized.[4]

On the evening before Valentine was to be executed, he is supposed to have written the first "valentine" card himself, addressed to Julia, who was no longer blind, signing as "Your Valentine."[5] According to legend, Julia planted a pink-blossomed almond tree near his grave. The almond tree remains a symbol of abiding love and friendship to this day.[6]

History of Valentine's Day

Saint Valentine of Rome was martyred on February 14 in 269 C.E.[7] The Feast of Saint Valentine was established by Pope Gelasius I in 496 C.E., to be celebrated on February 14 in honor of the Christian martyr. February 14 is also Saint Valentine's Day in the Lutheran calendar of saints.[8] The Church of England had him in its pre-Reformation calendars, and restored his mention as bishop and martyr in its 1661–62 Book of Common Prayer. However, in the 1969 revision of the Catholic Calendar of Saints, the feast day of Saint Valentine on February 14 was removed from the General Roman Calendar and relegated to particular (local or even national) calendars for the following reason: "Though the memorial of Saint Valentine is ancient, it is left to particular calendars, since, apart from his name, nothing is known of Saint Valentine except that he was buried on the Via Flaminia on February 14."[9]

Connection with romantic love

English eighteenth-century antiquarians Alban Butler and Francis Douce, noting the obscurity of Saint Valentine's identity, suggested that Valentine's Day was created as an attempt to supersede the pagan holiday of Lupercalia (mid-February in Rome), an archaic rite connected to fertility. However, this idea has been dismissed by other researchers.[10] Lupercalia, or any other Greco-Roman February holiday alleged to be devoted to fertility and love, has no recorded connection with Valentine's Day. The celebration of Saint Valentine did not have any romantic connotations until Chaucer's poetry about "Valentines" in the fourteenth century.[4]

Chaucer's love birds

Geoffrey Chaucer by Thomas Hoccleve (1412)

The first recorded association of Valentine's Day with romantic love is in Parlement of Foules (1382) by Geoffrey Chaucer.[4] Chaucer wrote:

For this was on seynt Volantynys day
Whan euery bryd comyth there to chese his make.

[For this was on St. Valentine's Day,
when every bird cometh there to choose his mate.]

This poem was written to honor the first anniversary of the engagement of King Richard II of England to Anne of Bohemia, which took place in May 1381.

Readers have uncritically assumed that Chaucer was referring to February 14 as Valentine's Day. Henry Ansgar Kelly has observed that Chaucer might have had in mind the feast day of St. Valentine of Genoa, an early bishop of Genoa who died around 307 C.E.; it was probably celebrated on May 3.[10] Jack B. Oruch notes that the date on which spring begins has changed since Chaucer's time because of the precession of the equinoxes and the introduction of the more accurate Gregorian calendar only in 1582. On the Julian calendar in use in Chaucer's time, February 14 would have fallen on the date now called February 23, a time when some birds have started mating and nesting in England.[4]

Three other authors who made poems about birds mating on St. Valentine's Day around the same years: Otton de Grandson from Savoy, John Gower from England, and a knight called Pardo from Valencia. Chaucer most probably predated all of them but, due to the difficulty of dating medieval works, it is not possible to ascertain which of the four first had the idea and influenced the others.[10]

Court of love

The earliest description of February 14 as an annual celebration of love appears in the Charter of the Court of Love. The charter, allegedly issued by Charles VI of France at Mantes-la-Jolie in 1400, describes lavish festivities to be attended every February 14 in Paris by several members of the royal court. The event was to include a feast, amorous song and poetry competitions, jousting, and dancing. For the competition, male guests were to bring a love song of their own composition, which was then judged by an all-female panel. [11]

Valentine poetry

The earliest surviving valentine is a fifteenth-century rondeau written by Charles, Duke of Orléans to his wife. At the time, the duke was being held in the Tower of London following his capture at the Battle of Agincourt, 1415. The poem begins:

Je suis desja d'amour tanné

Ma tres doulce Valentinée...

[I am already sick of love

My very gentle Valentine...][12]

The earliest surviving valentines in English appear to be those in the Paston Letters, written in 1477 by Margery Brewes to her future husband John Paston, "my right well-beloved Valentine."[13]

Valentine's Day is mentioned ruefully by Ophelia in William Shakespeare's Hamlet (1600–1601) Act IV, Scene 5:

To-morrow is Saint Valentine's day,
All in the morning betime,
And I a maid at your window,
To be your Valentine.
Then up he rose, and donn'd his clothes,
And dupp'd the chamber-door;
Let in the maid, that out a maid
Never departed more.

John Donne used the legend of the marriage of the birds as the starting point for his Epithalamion celebrating the marriage of Elizabeth, daughter of James I of England, and Frederick V, Elector Palatine, on Valentine's Day:

Hayle Bishop Valentine whose day this is

All the Ayre is thy Diocese
And all the chirping Queristers
And other birds ar thy parishioners
Thou marryest every yeare
The Lyrick Lark, and the graue whispering Doue,
The Sparrow that neglects his life for loue,
The houshold bird with the redd stomacher
Thou makst the Blackbird speede as soone,
As doth the Goldfinch, or the Halcyon
The Husband Cock lookes out and soone is spedd
And meets his wife, which brings her feather-bed.
This day more cheerfully than ever shine

This day which might inflame thy selfe old Valentine. [14]

The verse "Roses are red" echoes conventions traceable as far back as Edmund Spenser's epic The Faerie Queene (1590):

"She bath'd with roses red, and violets blew,
And all the sweetest flowres, that in the forrest grew."[15]

The modern cliché Valentine's Day poem can be found in the collection of English nursery rhymes Gammer Gurton's Garland (1784):

"The rose is red, the violet's blue,

The honey's sweet, and so are you.
Thou art my love and I am thine;
I drew thee to my Valentine:
The lot was cast and then I drew,

And Fortune said it shou'd be you."[16]

Connection with spring

While the European folk traditions connected with Saint Valentine and St. Valentine's Day have become marginalized by the modern Anglo-American customs connecting the day with romantic love, there are some remaining associations connecting the saint with the advent of spring.

In Slovenia, Saint Valentine or Zdravko was one of the saints of spring, the saint of good health and the patron of beekeepers and pilgrims.[17] It is said that "Saint Valentine brings the keys to the roots," so that plants and flowers start to grow on this day. This day is celebrated as the day when the first work in the gardens, orchards, vineyards and in the fields commences. The bees also wake up from their winter sleep at this time, making it an important date for beekeepers. It is also said that birds propose to each other and marry on that day. However the people, in their love affairs, turned to the patron of love, Saint Anthony, whose day is celebrated on June 13.[17]

Recent Traditions

An English Victorian era Valentine card located in the Museum of London

Having become associated with romantic love within the circle of Geoffrey Chaucer in the fourteenth century, when the tradition of courtly love flourished, in eighteenth-century England it had grown into an occasion in which couples expressed their love for each other by presenting flowers, offering confectionery, and sending greeting cards (known as "valentines"). Valentine's Day symbols that continue to be used today include the heart-shaped outline, doves, and the figure of the winged Cupid.

In 1797, a British publisher issued The Young Man's Valentine Writer, which contained scores of suggested sentimental verses for the young lover unable to compose his own. Printers had already begun producing a limited number of cards with verses and sketches, called "mechanical valentines."

Since the nineteenth century, handwritten valentines have given way to mass-produced greeting cards. Paper Valentines became so popular in England in the early nineteenth century that they were assembled in factories. Fancy Valentines were made with real lace and ribbons, with paper lace introduced in the mid-nineteenth century. In 1835, 60,000 Valentine cards were sent by post in the United Kingdom, despite postage being expensive.[18]

A reduction in postal rates following Sir Rowland Hill's postal reforms with the 1840 invention of the postage stamp (Penny Black) saw the number of Valentines posted increase, with 400,000 sent just one year after its invention, and ushered in the less personal but easier practice of mailing Valentines.[19] This made it possible for cards to be exchanged anonymously, and possibly accounts for the appearance of racy verse in an otherwise prudishly Victorian era.[20] Production increased in what Charles Dickens called "Cupid's Manufactory," with over 3,000 women employed in manufacturing.[19] The Laura Seddon Greeting Card Collection at Manchester Metropolitan University includes 450 Valentine's Day cards dating from early nineteenth century Britain, printed by the major publishers of the day.[21] The collection appears in Seddon's book Victorian Valentines (1996).[22]

A gift box of chocolates, a common gift for Valentine's Day

In the United States, the first mass-produced Valentines of embossed paper lace were produced and sold shortly after 1847 by Esther Howland (1828–1904) of Worcester, Massachusetts.[23] Her father operated a large book and stationery store, and Howland took her inspiration from an English Valentine she had received from one of her father's business associates. Intrigued with the idea of making similar Valentines, Howland began her business by importing paper lace and floral decorations from England.[24] Since 2001, the Greeting Card Association has been giving an annual Esther Howland Award for a Greeting Card Visionary."[23]

In 1868, the British chocolate company Cadbury created Fancy Boxes – a decorated box of chocolates – in the shape of a heart for Valentine's Day.[25] Boxes of filled chocolates quickly became associated with the holiday. In the second half of the twentieth century, the practice of exchanging cards was extended to all manner of gifts, such as giving jewelry.

The rise of Internet popularity at the turn of the millennium is creating new traditions. Millions of people use, every year, digital means of creating and sending Valentine's Day greeting messages such as e-cards, love coupons or printable greeting cards.

Customs around the world

Flowers, especially red roses, are often sent on Valentine's Day

Although not a public holiday in any country, Saint Valentine's Day is an official feast day in several churches, including the Roman Catholic, the Anglican Communion[26] and the Lutheran Church.[8] In the modern era, liturgically, the Anglican Church has a service for St. Valentine's Day (the Feast of St. Valentine), which includes the optional rite of the renewal of marriage vows.[27]

Valentine's Day customs – sending greeting cards (known as “valentines”), offering confectionery and presenting flowers – having developed in early modern England and spread throughout the English-speaking world in the nineteenth century, spread to other countries in the later twentieth and early twenty-first centuries.


Conversation hearts, candies with messages on them that are strongly associated with Valentine's Day.

In the United States, almost 200 million Valentine's Day cards are sent each year. School children commonly exchange cards with their classmates, adding several more hundreds of millions of cards.[28] "Sweethearts" or "Conversation hearts," candies with romantic messages, are also popular around Valentine's Day.

In most Latin American countries, Valentine's Day is known as Día de los Enamorados (day of lovers) or as Día del Amor y la Amistad (Day of Love and Friendship). It is also common to see people perform "acts of appreciation" for their friends. Some countries have a tradition called Amigo secreto ("Secret friend"), which is a game similar to the Christmas tradition of Secret Santa.[12]

In Brazil, the Dia dos Namorados ("Lovers' Day," or "Boyfriends'/Girlfriends' Day") is celebrated on June 12, probably because that is the day before Saint Anthony's day, known there as the marriage saint.[29] Single women traditionally perform popular rituals, called simpatias, in order to find a good husband or boyfriend. Couples exchange gifts, chocolates, cards, and flower bouquets.


Taipei 101 on Valentine's Day 2006

In Japan, Morozoff Ltd. introduced the holiday for the first time in 1936, when it ran an advertisement aimed at foreigners. Later, in 1953, it began promoting the giving of heart-shaped chocolates; other Japanese confectionery companies followed suit thereafter. Further campaigns during the 1960s popularized the custom.[30]

The custom that only women give chocolates to men may have originated from the translation error of a chocolate-company executive during the initial campaigns. To further complicate matters, women give different kinds of chocolates: Giri-choco ("obligation chocolates") are given to men in one's social circles and co-workers, while men whom the giver has romantic feelings for receive honmei-choco ("true feeling chocolate").[31]

In the 1980s, the Japanese National Confectionery Industry Association launched a successful campaign to make March 14 a "reply day," where men are expected to return the favor to those who gave them chocolates on Valentine's Day, calling it White Day for the color of the chocolates being offered. A previous failed attempt to popularize this celebration had been done by a marshmallow manufacturer who wanted men to return marshmallows to women.[30]

In South Korea, women give chocolate to men on February 14, and men give non-chocolate candy to women on March 14 (White Day). On April 14 (Black Day), those who did not receive anything on February or March 14 go to a Chinese-Korean restaurant to eat black noodles (자장면 jajangmyeon) and lament their "single life."[32]

In Taiwan, Valentine's Day and White Day are both celebrated. However, the situation is the reverse of in Japan: Men give gifts to women on Valentine's Day, and women return them on White Day.


Shrine of St. Valentine in Whitefriar Street Carmelite Church in Dublin, Ireland

In the UK, just under half of the population spend money on Valentine's Day on cards, flowers, chocolates, and other gifts, with an estimated 25 million cards being sent. In Norfolk, England, a legendary character called 'Jack' Valentine still knocks on the rear door of houses leaving sweets and trinkets for adults and children alike, just for fun.[33]

In 2016, Catholic Bishops of England and Wales established a novena prayer "to support single people seeking a spouse ahead of St Valentine's Day."[34]

On Saint Valentine's Day in Ireland, many individuals who seek true love make a Christian pilgrimage to the Shrine of St. Valentine in Whitefriar Street Carmelite Church in Dublin. They pray at the shrine, which is said to house relics of Saint Valentine of Rome, in hope of finding romance.[35] There lies a book in which foreigners and locals have written their prayer requests for love.[36]

In France, a traditionally Catholic country, Valentine's Day is known simply as La Saint-Valentin (short for la fête de Saint Valentin). It is celebrated in much the same way as other western countries, except for one important difference: gifts are given only to romantic partners.[37]

In Italy, Saint Valentine's Keys are given to lovers "as a romantic symbol and an invitation to unlock the giver's heart," as well as to children to ward off epilepsy (called Saint Valentine's Malady). To this day, a special ceremony is held on February 14 each year in the Oratorio di San Giorgio chapel in Monselice, Padua, where children are given small golden keys to ward off epilepsy.[38]

Islamic cultures

In Islamic countries the celebration of Valentine's Day has been harshly criticized as opposed to Islamic culture.

In 2011, the Iranian printing works owners' union issued a directive banning the printing and distribution of any goods promoting the holiday, including cards, gifts, and teddy bears.[39]

Islamic officials in West Malaysia warned Muslims against celebrating Valentine's Day, linking it with vice activities. Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin said the celebration of romantic love was "not suitable" for Muslims. Wan Mohamad Sheikh Abdul Aziz, head of the Malaysian Islamic Development Department (Jakim), which oversees the country's Islamic policies said that a fatwa (ruling) issued by the country's top clerics in 2005 noted that the day "is associated with elements of Christianity," and "we just cannot get involved with other religions" worshiping rituals. Jakim officials launched a publicity campaign called "Awas Jerat Valentine's Day" ("Mind the Valentine's Day Trap"), aimed at preventing Muslims from celebrating the day.[40]

The concept of Valentine's Day was introduced into Pakistan during the late 1990s with special TV and radio programs. The celebration quickly becoming popular among urban youth who gave flowers, especially red roses, and cards. In 2016, the local governing body of Peshwar officially banned the celebration of Valentine's Day in the city. The ban was also implemented in other cities such as Kohat by the local governments.[41] In 2017, the Islamabad High Court banned Valentine's Day celebrations in public places in Pakistan.[42]

In Saudi Arabia, in 2002 and 2008, religious police banned the sale of all Valentine's Day items, telling shop workers to remove any red items, because the day is considered a Christian holiday.[43] However, in 2017 a fatwa was issued permitting the celebration and such restrictions were lifted. The fatwa secretary of Dar Al-Ifta Al-Misriya (Egyptian Religious Edict House), Ahmed Mamdouh, said: “There is no harm to allocate one day to show love to one another.” [44]


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  2. Meera Lester, Sacred Travels (Adams Media, 2011, ISBN 978-1440524899).
  3. St. Valentine of Terni, 14 February Italy Heritage. Retrieved June 9, 2021.
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  5. Ruth Webb Lee, A History of Valentines (Literary Licensing, 2012, ISBN 978-1258486358).
  6. John Foxe, Voices of the Martyrs (Salem Books, 2019, ISBN 978-1684510085).
  7. Alban Butler, Lives of the saints (Continuum International Publishing Group, 2003, ISBN 978-0860123408).
  8. 8.0 8.1 Philip H. Pfatteicher, New Book of Festivals and Commemorations: A Proposed Common Calendar of Saints (Fortress Press, 2008, ISBN 978-0800621285).
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  14. John Donne, The Complete Poetry and Selected Prose of John Donne (Modern Library, 2001, ISBN 978-0375757341).
  15. Spenser, The Faery Queene Retrieved June 9, 2021.
  16. The Valentine Gammer Gurton's Garland Retrieved June 9, 2021.
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  19. 19.0 19.1 David Vincent, Literacy and Popular Culture: England 1750–1914 (Cambridge University Press, 1989, ISBN 978-0521334662).
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  21. MMU Special Collections – Victorian Ephemera Manchester Metropolitan University. Retrieved June 9, 2021.
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ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Butler, Alban. Butler's Lives of the Saints. Continuum International Publishing Group, 2003. ISBN 978-0860123408
  • Davis, Norman. The Paston Letters: A Selection in Modern Spelling. Oxford University Press, 2009. ISBN 978-0199538379
  • Dean, Dorothy. On the Collectible Trail. Discovery Publications, 1990. ISBN 978-1878496003
  • Devereux, Eve. Love & Romance. Facts, Figures & Fun, 2006. ISBN 978-1904332336
  • Donne, John. The Complete Poetry and Selected Prose of John Donne. Modern Library, 2001. ISBN 978-0375757341
  • Forbes, Bruce David. America's Favorite Holidays: Candid Histories. University of California Press, 2015. ISBN 978-0520284722
  • Foxe, John. Voices of the Martyrs. Salem Books, 2019. ISBN 978-1684510085
  • Goldstein Darra (ed.). The Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets. Oxford University Press, 2015. ISBN 978-0199313396
  • Kelly, Henry Ansgar. Chaucer and the Cult of Saint Valentine. Brill, 1997. ISBN 978-9004078499
  • Lee, Ruth Webb. A History of Valentines. Literary Licensing, 2012. ISBN 978-1258486358
  • Lester, Meera. Sacred Travels. Adams Media, 2011. ISBN 978-1440524899
  • Levine, Deborah A. Love Miscellany: Everything You Always Wanted to Know About the Many Ways We Celebrate Love and Romance. Skyhorse, 2012. ISBN 978-1616083861
  • Panati, Charles. Extraordinary Origins of Everyday Things. Chartwell Books, 2016. ISBN 978-0785834373
  • Pfatteicher, Philip H. New Book of Festivals and Commemorations: A Proposed Common Calendar of Saints. Fortress Press, 2008. ISBN 978-0800621285
  • Rupp, Katherine. Gift-Giving in Japan: Cash, Connections, Cosmologies. Stanford University Press, 2003. ISBN 978-0804747042
  • Seddon, Laura. Victorian Valentines: A Guide to the Laura Seddon Collection of Valentine Cards in Manchester Metropolitan University Library. Manchester Metropolitan University, 1996. ISBN 978-0901276544
  • The Archbishops Council. New Patterns for Worship. Church House Publishing, 2012. ISBN 978-0715122440
  • Vincent, David. Literacy and Popular Culture: England 1750–1914. Cambridge University Press, 1989. ISBN 978-0521334662
  • Webb, Matilda. The Churches and Catacombs of Early Christian Rome. Sussex Academic Press, 2001. ISBN 978-1902210582

External links

All links retrieved May 3, 2023.


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