February 14th always seems to bring a sense of dread along with it. For those who are without a significant other, the reminder of their single status can bring on bouts of loneliness. For those in a relationship, be it a one-night stand or a 30-year marriage, the question of gifts and romantic gestures creates unneeded anxiety. So what’s the historical background that causes us to go crazy with hearts and stuffed animals on the 14th?
There are several stories of Saint Valentine, but the most recognized takes place during the reign of Emperor Claudius II. With a the Roman Empire under attack and a need for single men to fight, Emperor Claudius II forbid marriage, hoping that soldiers without emotional attachments would lead to better results on the battlefield. Not only were the Romans outraged, but Valentine was also. Valentine, at that time was a bishop and continued to marry couples secretively. Apparently Valentine was not the best at keeping secrets because Claudius II soon found out about the ‘friend of lovers’ and sentenced Valentine to be executed.
During Valentine’s imprisonment he became friends with the jailor’s daughter (or maybe a little more than just friends). When Valentine’s execution day came he asked for a pen and paper and wrote out a farewell letter to his new ‘friend.’ As the story goes he signed the letter, ‘From your Valentine,’ a phrase that is quite familiar in these cold months. According to the legend, Valentine was executed on February 14, 270 A.D. And so February 14th has since been a remembrance of Valentine and a tribute to love.
So what came next for the martyred saint? Cards! In the 18th century English couples began exchanging presents and homemade cards. The tradition carried on to the Americas. Ester A. Howland is referred to as the mother of Valentine’s Day for her card creations. In the 1840s she was the first to mass-produce Valentine’s Day cards that included ribbon, lace and pictures. Now, I’m not sure if you’ve noticed but, it seems to have caught on. It is estimated by the Greeting Card Association (yes, that actually exists) that around one billion valentine cards are sent every year.
Next time you cry for your unrequited love or dig into another heart shaped box of chocolates, know Saint Valentine’s death was not in vain. For it was he who made it possible for women to badger their boyfriends about commitment levels and carat sizes.