St. Valentine's Day Information from
Legends of St. Valentine's Day
There are many legends which surround the origins of St.
Valentine's Day, a holiday which has withstood many depressing eras. The
socio-economic forces involved with the holiday have contributed to its
continuity - like lovers of all ages focusing on this bright spot amid the
bleakness of winter, and the suppliers of goods that emphasize the message
- On February 14th, 273 A.D., a Roman priest named Valentine
was beheaded by Emperor Claudius II. The emperor had outlawed marriages
because he felt they decreased the male's zest for battle. Valentine was
condemned to death because he ignored the emperor's decrees and continued
to perform marriages for young lovers.
- Another St. Valentine (there are reports of up to eight
around this time period) was a Roman martyr who had been jailed. Valentine
wrote love letters to his jailer's daughter with the last note signed,
"Your Valentine". Other sources cite this Valentine as restoring
the sight of his captor's daughter.
- Some etymologists point to a medieval Norman French word,
"gelatin", meaning "a lover of women". They say it
was once written and pronounced with a "v".
- In England, the Romans, who had taken over the country,
had introduced a pagan fertility festival held every February 14. After
the Romans left England, nearly a century later, the pagan ritual was abolished
by Pope Gelsius who established St. Valentine's Day as a celebration of
love in 496 A.D.
- During the Middle Ages, Europeans believed that birds
chose their mates each year on February 14. People developed their own
adaptation of this ornithological myth and began the practice of drawing
lots, letting fate decide the names of each person's "Valentine".
Small gifts and sweets were exchanged, and this became a common procedure
for the amorously inclined young men and women of this period.
- Ancient Romans celebrated a festival in mid-February
called Lupercalia in honor of Lupercus, the Roman equivalent of the Greed
god, Pan. Festivities included a matchmaking ritual in which young men
drew the names of young women, who either became their dancing partners
during the "Rites of Pan", or their partner for the year.
- The Frenchman, Charles duc d'Orleans, sent love poems
to his wife while he was imprisoned in the Tower of London on February
14, 1415. These may have been the first written valentines, and, as the
idea caught on, such notes were accompanied by chocolate and other sweets.
- The 17th century diarist, Samuel Pepys, recorded that
lovers exchanged mementos like gloves, rings and sweetmeats on St. Valentine's
Day. Shakespeare suggested "Sweets to the Sweet", in Hamlet.
- In America, the pilgrims sent confections, such as sugar
wafers, marzipan, sweetmeats and sugar plums, to their betrothed. Great
value was placed on these gifts because they included what was then a rare
commodity, sugar. After the late 1800's, beet sugar became widely used
and more available, and sweet gifts continued to be valued and enjoyed.
- As the candy-giving custom grew, American colonists made
homemade candies with love notes scratched in the surface. By the mid-nineteenth
century, candy-makes were preparing deliciously flavored sugar lozenges,
pressed into hearts and imprinted with words of love -- the beginning of
the modern-day conversation heart.
- Red and white confections became popular, with red representing
the "passion", and white the "purity" of love. By the
turn of the century, heart-shaped boxes of chocolate began to appear in
the confectionery shops from coast to coast.
[Information adapted from material published by Retail
Confectioner's Association in their publication, "Kettle Talk"]
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