At what better time of the year could a holiday like Valentine's Day find a home than during spring, a time of love and flowers? A popular holiday of romance when all tokens of affection are exchanged, Valentine's Day is one of the most obvious continuations of ancient fertility festivals.
Confusion surrounds the exact identity of the man called Saint Valentine, for at least three Saint Valentines are mentioned in the early martyr compilations. One is described as a priest in Rome, another as a Bishop of Terni in Italy, and the last lived and died in Africa. The priest of Rome and the Bishop of Terni are often considered the same person. A priest and physician, he was killed during the persecutions under the Emperor Claudius II Gothicus. Claudius believed the reason for the dwindling number of men enlisting in his army was that Roman men did not want to leave their sweethearts or families. As a result, he canceled all marriages and engagements in Rome. Valentine continued to perform marriages in secret however and was eventually executed for defying the emperor. He was beaten to death by clubs on February 14, 269 AD, decapitated, and buried in the Roman road Via Flaminia. This was later the site of a basilica built by Pope Julius I. His matrimonial activities coupled with the traditions of Lupercalia made Saint Valentine the patron saint of lovers. Two hundred years later, Pope Gelasius marked February 14th as a celebration in honor of his martyrdom.
In the days when Christianity was still taking control of Pagan Europe, the Roman church was in the practice of merging many Pagan holy days with its own in an effort to both convert and make conversion easier for Pagan worshipers. In this way, St Valentine's Day was combined with the old Roman fertility festival of Lupercalia, adopting many of its traditions. While Lupercalia is observed on February 15, Pagan holidays, like many lunar based religions, begin the night before. St Valentine's Day and Lupercalia are in many ways the same holiday.
Lupercalia is primarily a spring festival, honoring the Roman gods Faunus and Lupercus. Faunus (like the Greek god Pan) is a god of flocks and fertility, while Lupercus protected the flock from wolfs. Lupercalia was intended to ensure the fertility and protection of flocks, fields and people, but in Rome it was also meant to honor the twin founders of their city, Remus and Romulus, who were nursed by the she-wolf Lupa as children. The Luperci priests sacrificed goats and dogs on the Palatine Hill at the Lupercal, the cave where the twins were raised by the wolf. After they had smeared wool dipped in milk and the blood of the sacrifice on the foreheads of young boys, the boys would run through the streets dressed in animal skins, laughing and wielding februa (thongs made from goat-hide). With these thongs, they would slap (februatio) women gathered in the streets, ensuring both fertility and easy child delivery. The name of the month of February came from these words, meaning "to purify."
As the Roman Empire spread, so too did the observation of Roman and Roman-hybrid holidays. Even after the power of Rome began to wane, Lupercalia was still celebrated by its citizens. Only the focus of the holiday changed, realigning to the more popular female deity. Juno, the goddess of women and marriage, became the deity of Lupercalia. On the eve of the festival of Lupercalia, girls placed their names in a container, possibly accompanied by love notes, to be used in a type of lottery. A boy drawing a girl's name would seek (or was guaranteed) her favor. The two were then considered partners for the festival's duration, sometimes for an entire year. The union often resulted in love and marriage for the young couple. In the Middle Ages, men and women drew names from a bowl to determine their Valentines. They would wear these names on their sleeves for one week, and from this tradition came the phrase "wearing your heart on your sleeve."
As far back as the Middle Ages, lovers would exchange or sing romantic verses at this time. It is thought the young French Duke of Orleans invented the first Valentine-like cards in the 1400s. Captured in battle and held prisoner in the Tower of London for many years, he wrote countless love poems to his wife, sixty of which remain among the royal papers kept in the British Museum. In 1537, King Henry the Eighth declared that February 14 was "Saint Valentine's Day" by Royal Charter. By the 1700s, exchange of handcrafted greeting cards had become a common practice, and the observance grew to include Valentine gifts. In America however, Valentine's Day did not become a tradition until around the Civil War (1861-65). Early Valentines were homemade, fashioned by hand with colored paper, watercolors, lace, ribbon, and colored inks. Miss Esther Howland is credited with developing the first commercial Valentines, reputedly earning $5,000 her first year in business, at the time a great deal of money. By the early 1900s, a card company named Norcross began to produce valentines. Hallmark owns a collection of rare antique valentines and occasionally displays them. At one point, Valentine's Day became so popular it rivaled Christmas. This is perhaps why St Valentine's Day was dropped from the Roman Church Calendar in 1969.
Handmade valentines varied, but included:
-Acrostic valentines: verses whose first lines spelled out a beloved's name
-Cut-out valentines: made by folding the paper several times, then cutting out a lacelike design with small, sharp, pointed scissors
-Pinprick valentines: made by pricking tiny holes in a paper with a pin or needle to create the look of lace
-Theorem or Poonah valentines: designs that were painted through a stencil cut in oil paper, a style that came from the Orient
-Rebus valentines: verses in which tiny pictures take the place of some of the words (for example, an eye would take the place of the word "I")
-Puzzle Purse valentines: a folded puzzle to read and refold. Among their many folds were verses that had to be read in a certain order
-Fraktur valentines: had ornamental lettering in the style of the medieval illuminated manuscripts
In England, children dressed as adults on Valentine's Day and went singing from home to home. One verse they sang was:
Good morning to you, valentine;
Curl your locks as I do mine---
Two before and three behind.
Good morning to you, valentine.
In Wales, wooden love spoons were carved and given as Valentine gifts. Hearts, keys and keyholes were favorite decorations on the spoons.
In some countries, a young woman might receive a gift of clothing from a young man. If she kept it she was agreeing to marry him.
Birds are also thought to choose their mates on February 14th. By watching birds, a young woman can discover what kind of man she will marry. A robin means a sailor for a husband; a sparrow means a poor man but a happy union. A gold finch represented a wealthy mate.
In Rome, girls place five bay leaves under their pillows to dream of their future husbands or lovers.
In Japan, Valentine�s Day ladies buy chocolate for the men. There are two kinds of chocolate �the kiri-choco for friends and acquaintances and has no romantic connotations and the hon-mei for a boy friend, lover or husband. Exactly one month later on White Day the men reciprocate, giving gifts of white chocolate to all the ladies who remembered them on Valentines Day.