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  • Chloe Strongin

What Exactly is Valentine’s Day All About?

We all know that many of us mark February 14th by buying their significant others chocolates or by sending cards, however corny they may be. But how did this day with its distinctive customs develop?

It was originally a Christian feast day called the Feast of Saint Valentine, which, quite ironically, had no correlation to romance. This feast was an annual celebration honoring Saint Valentine of Rome.

In around 270 A.D., Roman Emperor Claudius II banned marriage because he believed his men were unwilling to join the Roman Army if they were to get married. He thought the soldier’s attachment to their wives trumped their military commitment to Rome. Valentine thought this was unjustifiable; he broke the rules and arranged marriages in secret without the emperor knowing.

Eventually, Claudius found out, put Valentine in jail and sentenced him to death. While in jail, he fell in love with the jailer's daughter. Before he was taken to be executed on February 14th, 269 A.D., he sent her a love letter signed "from your Valentine.” Valentine was named a saint after his death.

The feast day metamorphosed into a Roman festival called Lupercalia in the middle of February, which celebrated the official start of springtime. During the celebration, boys chose the names of girls from a box. During this festival, they courted the girls, often leading to marriage. Later on, the church turned this festival into a Christian celebration to commemorate St. Valentine. This is when St. Valentine's name was used to express feelings of love-- all because of the letter he first sent to the jailer’s daughter.

In Paris, France, on February 14, 1400, the first known official celebration of St. Valentine’s Day took place. At this time, King Charles VI of France established La cour amoureuse, also known as the “High Court of Love.” The court was entirely run by women and met to deal with marriage contracts, divorces, infidelity, and domestic violence.

It wasn’t until 1797 that Valentine’s Day resembled the day as we know it. That year, a British publisher circulated an article titled The Young Man’s Valentine’s Writer, which gave suggestions of romantic sayings people could send to their loved ones. And thus, the tradition of sending Valentine’s greetings began.

Currently, in the United States, it is estimated that approximately 190 million Valentines are sent each year. In 2022, experts predict that spending will yield an average of $175.41 per person on Valentine's Day gifts. All together, projections predict that Americans will spend around $23.9 billion for Valentine’s Day in 2022.

Valentine’s Day has become big business for many industries. There are numerous items that Americans spend their money on to celebrate Valentine's Day beyond cards. Three significant categories where this money is spent include $1.6 billion on various candy and chocolates, $1.9 billion on flowers, and $4.4 billion on diamonds, gold, and silver. Beginning with chocolates, in 1861, Richard Cadbury, a candy-maker from Britain, had the idea to sell chocolates for Valentine's Day. The British chocolate company Cadbury created, sold “Fancy Boxes,” a decorated box of chocolates in the shape of a heart. Since then, boxes of chocolate quickly became associated with Valentine’s Day. According to a survey released from the National Confectioners Association, 86% of Americans are planning to purchase chocolates or candy for this year's Valentine’s Day.

Beyond chocolates, red roses are also a very popular Valentine's Day gift. Why red roses? The Roman Goddess of love, Venus, had a favorite flower: the red rose. Legend has it that the red rose was her favorite because the bud of the rose stands for strong romantic feelings. Approximately 224 million roses are grown for Valentine’s Day each year.

Clearly, there is a lot more to Valentine's Day than candy hearts and flower bouquets. There exists a largely unknown but rich history from which the traditions derive. One might wonder whether St. Valentine would embrace the way that people around the globe celebrate this day named after him. Based on the fact that he celebrated love and marriage, it is likely that the way we show affection for others on Valentine’s Day would bring him nothing but joy.


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