Amazing Historical and Contemporary Facts From Your Favorite Authors.
Mary Spencer, who also writes as Susan Spencer Paul, is a hopeless romantic as attested to by the ploys and plots of her characters in her novels. She is the author of fourteen historical romance novels. Her newest release, The Prisoner Bride is Book Six in her best-selling Bride Series.
Valentine's Day originated as a Roman fertility festival called Lupercalia, which was celebrated on February 15th, considered in those days to be the start of Spring. During Lupercalia, young women in Rome would write their names on slips of paper and place them in a large urn. Each young man would then draw out a name, and would be paired with the girl he'd chosen for the remainder of the year. This "lottery" system often resulted in marriage, thereby lending the day of Lupercalia a romantic and hopeful air.
By the 3rd century A.D., Christianity had made an appearance in Rome, though it was far from the popular religion of the day. The emperor at the time, Claudius II, was building up his army and decided that single men made the best soldiers since they had no wives or families to worry about. He ruled that the young men of Rome could no longer take wives, causing great distress among the citizenry; especially those young men who'd previously been engaged to marry. A priest named Valentine broke the law by marrying couples, and was summarily jailed and beheaded. During his brief internment, Valentine is said to have fallen in love with his jailer's daughter. He would send her messages signed, "From your Valentine" -- words still used today when sending Valentine's Day greetings. Valentine was later granted sainthood and during the Middle Ages was, not surprisingly, one of the most popular saints in Europe.
In 498 A.D., Pope Gelasius, in an effort to Christianize Lupercalia, declared February 14th St. Valentine's Day, encouraging the romantic notion of the "new birth" of Spring (and the mating season of birds) while at the same time outlawing the "lottery" system of name-drawing still used in Rome.
There isn't a specifically known date as to when Valentine's Day cards were first given to loved ones, but the oldest known Valentine still in existence was written in 1415 by the Duke of Orleans to his wife, during his imprisonment in England following the Battle of Agincourt.
Valentine's Day has been popularly celebrated in Europe since the 17th century, and by the middle of the 18th century friends and lovers of all social classes commonly exchanged tokens of affection. By the end of the 18th century, printed Valentine cards became popular, especially because this indirect type of expression of affection, rather than anything more verbal or physical, was considered more appropriate.
Americans began exchanging Valentine's greetings in the early 1700's, and the first mass-produced cards were sold in 1840. Today, approximately one billion Valentines are exchanged each year, making Valentine's Day the second largest card-giving holiday, second only to Christmas.
Several interesting customs are related to Valentine's Day. In England, during the 1700's, women would write the names of several men on bits of paper and roll them individually in pieces of clay. These were dropped into a bucket of water, and the first to rise to the surface supposedly contained the name of the man the woman would marry.
Another tradition found young women pinning bay leaves to their pillows on Valentine's Day Eve. During the night, the bay leaves were supposed to work as a charm and let the woman dream of the man who would be her husband.
A popular custom during the mid-1700's involved groups of young people exchanging their names on slips of paper (harking back to the days of Lupercalia). The men would pin the names of the women on their sleeves, hence the phrase "wearing your heart on your sleeve."
These days' lovers commonly exchange gifts such as chocolates, sexy silk lingerie, perfume and flowers, but in the 1700's the gift of choice was commonly a book of romantic verse. During the 1800's, jewelry, fine gloves, lace shawls and imported fans were popular gifts for ladies, and some gentlemen actually went to the expense of throwing a Valentine's Day ball in honor of his loved one.