The Origin of Valentine’s Day

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Love is in the air…or, it will be very soon. Valentine’s Day is fast approaching, but for some it has already arrived. Most places you go, you see the familiar hearts strewn wherever they will stick, attire of various styles dolled up with extra lace and glitter, and shelves upon shelves of  cards with cute sayings and expressions of affection. While there are many people out there whose pulses accelerate at the sight of such frills and frivolity, there are others that prefer to scoff and look away. For a day dedicated to romance and love, there are many who see the day as just another day for Hallmark to sell some cards. How did it end up this way?

First, let’s take a look at the history of Valentine’s Day. Though there are two versions of the story, they both lead back to a saint in third century Europe named Valentine. In one version of the legend, Emperor Claudius II had outlawed marriage for young men, thinking that they would be better soldiers without a wife or family. Valentine had found this an injustice and married young men and women anyways, eventually leading to his persecution. Another story attests that Valentine was helping Christians escape Roman prisons, which landed him in jail himself. It is also said that during his sentence, he fell in love with a young woman. Before being escorted to his death, he wrote this woman a letter signed “from your Valentine”. This would give some basis for the valentines that we in the modern age give our loved ones during the season. No matter how the story is spun, it all revolves around the romantic, martyred Saint Valentine. It was widely believed in France and England that the fourteenth of February was the beginning of birds’ mating season, and it has been the day of romance ever since.

Valentines started in the eighteenth century, mainly for gentlemen who were not skilled enough to write or draw. Three hundred years later, this small gesture has turned into an international industry. Not only are valentines available individually, but they can be purchased in sets of 24 in themed packages. Cards are not the only expression of attraction now: candies, chocolate, and flowers are also popular. In 2013, it was estimated that around 1.6 billion dollars was spend on candy alone. Flower sales are not just based on people buying them for their significant others; last year, 14% of women sent themselves flowers on Valentine’s Day.

The modern holiday is not just commercial, though; people buy things, yes, but a majority of them buy them for someone they love. Some argue that you should not do nice things for your sweetheart just because the calendar says so. Whether you swoon happily or groan in annoyance, Valentine’s Day remains relevant in today’s society. If you are not in it for the romantic aspect, feel free to rejoice in the fact that candy is fifty percent off on February fifteenth.