Just how did Valentine's Day start? The origin seems to lie in the old Roman celebration of Lupercalia observed every February 15. When Galasius I sat as the Holy Roman Empire Pope, he declared the pagan festival a Christian feast day in 496, and declared February 14 to be the day for the observation.
Which St. Valentine Pope Galasius I honored by naming the day for him has been lost in the mists of time. There were at least three St. Valentines, and all three, according to information about them, lost their lives on February 14.
Most scholars, however, think the St. Valentine whose day we honor was a priest who came into disfavor with Emperor Claudius II about 270. According to this legend, Emperor Claudius had written a mandamus prohibiting young men to marry, believing they made better soldiers if they did not have to leave a wife behind to go into battle. Valentine performed marriages in secret when the soldiers and their brides-to-be came to him seeking to be wed. This Valentine was apprehended and put to death for defying the Emperor's orders.
Another of the priests named Valentine was imprisoned by Emperor Claudius. While in jail, this priest, who was sworn to celibacy, fell in love with the jailer's lovely daughter. Facing death, this priest wrote a letter to the jailer's daughter declaring his love and signing it "from your Valentine."
The third priest Valentine, and probably the one for whom the February 14 day was named, was one who met his death because he refused to renounce his Christian religion, thus providing the highest form of love, allegiance to his Lord, or "agape" love.
Thus from 270 AD and 496 AD, there are evidences that Valentine's Day was observed in much of our world. Although the day has continued with many people observing it as a day to declare love for a special person, the Catholic Church, in 1969 disengaged from the questionable historical origins of the various Valentines once claimed to be saints. The church in its liturgical calendar no longer has St. Valentine's feast day.
The English poet Geoffrey Chaucer added his bit to the observance of Valentine's Day. It was he who linked the day with romantic love. In 1381 he composed a poem entitled "The Parliament of Fowls." With its unusual title, it still praised the engagement of England's King Richard II to the beautiful Anne of Bohemia. With his poem, he had linked the traditional day of the birds seeking to find their mate with the king's betrothal to the Bohemian lady.
By the eighteenth century, gift-giving and card exchanges were common in England. Some of the early colonists brought the tradition with them to America. In 1850, Esther A. Howland started a business of mass-producing cards for Valentine's Day. She was a graduate of Mount Holyoke College and her artistic and poetic talents helped her to make cards that were popular and meaningful. Today, more Valentine cards are exchanged than for any other special day.
I have some special memories of Valentine's Day. Grover Jones, who became my husband in December, 1949, gave me a Valentine gift first on February 14, 1948, after we had been dating for about five weeks. He had learned that I like chocolate, so he gave me a box of Whitman's chocolates. With the box of candy was a beautiful Valentine's card, a "saver" to go into my keepsake box, and a bud vase with three American Beauty red roses. Roses, chocolates and a beautiful card became his Valentine gifts to me until he became afflicted with Alzheimer's and could no longer remember the day or the gifts. One or the other of my children continues his gift to me on Valentine's Day.
Valentine's Day holds great sadness for me, too. It was on February 14, 1945 that my mother died. I was 14 at the time. It was a gray, cold, rainy cloudy day. I thought then the sun would never shine again. But when I considered that my saintly mother had exchanged the illness and cares of earth for an eternal Valentine's Day in heaven, the sadness eventually lifted.
Valentine's Day is a time to remember, and to be thankful.
c 2007 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published Feb. 15, 2007 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.