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History of Valentine’s Day

Numbers are one way in which to understand the significance of Valentine’s Day. According to research done by the company Hallmark, which is known for their holiday retail products, over 144 million Valentine’s Day greeting cards are exchanged every year in the USA. The U.S Census Bureau, a branch under the U.S Department of Commerce that tracks data about the countries population and economy, estimates that the population of the U.S in the month of February 2018 is a little over 327 million. This means that almost half, or 44 percent of the population, will received a Valentine’s Day card this year.

Breaking down the holiday further, The National Retail Federation, an association that represents retail trade worldwide, found in its annual consumer spending survey that spending is expected to reach 19.6 billion in the U.S for Valentine’s Day. This is over a billion more than in 2017. The majority of this spending is from candy, holiday cards, flowers and evenings out on the town.

While Valentine’s day is widely known and celebrated in current society, compared to most holidays, the history of Valentine’s Day is a bit of a mystery. It is widely known that a Catholic Saint called Saint Valentine is the basis of the holiday, but after that it gets a little murky and legends tend to differ.

Rick Kennedy, a professor of history at PLNU, explained that what we do know about the origins of Valentine’s Day comes from a book written in the 1400s called the Golden Legend. This book is a compilation of Saint’s lives, but the catholic church does not contend that all of the Saints, including Saint Valentine, really existed. The story goes that Saint Valentine was set to be executed in a time where Christians were suffering persecution under the Roman Empire. Saint Valentine, on his way to be executed, performs a miracle and heals the daughter of the jailor who is taking him to be executed.

“This miracle is probably the root of this notion of giving gifts or something to girls on Valentine’s day,” said Kennedy. “Because it was a gesture of love. He was off to be executed and the jailor’s daughter was sick and he makes the gesture of love to this young girl.”

Kennedy explained that our word for holiday comes from the Saint’s days, which were technically called holy days. On these days, a Saint was assigned a day in which you prayed to them and thought about what they represented. If a day was really special to a region, they made it more of a formal holiday, and it was build up from there. Valentine’s Day was made official in the 1500s by Pope Gelasius in order to preserve the meaning of the day.

“Holidays in as they are rooted in the Catholic Church and in the Orthodox church, they are holy days,” said Kennedy. “They are supposed to be fun days. They are days to celebrate goodness.”

History.com reports that Valentine’s Day is also celebrated in Canada, Mexico, the United Kingdom, France, and Australia. In Europe, traditional Valentine greeting can be traced back to the Middle Ages. The first official Valentine’s known to be in existence is from 1415 in the form of a poem written to his wife by Charles, The Duke of Orleans, which he wrote while he was imprisoned in the Tower of London. However, the celebration of Valentine’s Day as we know it today started in the 1700s in most countries. The first published Valentine’s Day card in America was made by a woman named Esther Howland in 1849 and the day has continued to grow from there.

Kennedy said that, today, the significance of Valentine’s Day is found in the gift giving of the day. However, he said that while America is a capitalist country and we take advantage of the holiday in this way, Valentines day is still significant and is still a beautiful holiday.

“I think probably the best thing to emphasize if you are going to take these holidays seriously is that they are Christian in the sense that they honor and promote Christian values: love,” said Kennedy. “That is what Valentine’s Day is about.”


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Delaney Mowers

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