We all know that Valentine’s Day means buying chocolates, flowers, valentine’s cards, etc. for our special ‘someones’. Depending on who that special ‘someone’ is, this day can leave some filled with anxiety, joy, regret, happiness, loneliness, debt…I don’t think there’s a more stressful holiday out there.
Whether you have someone or not, this day will definitely illicit some sort of rousing emotional response. And of course, that leads to increased consumerism which companies are ready to take full advantage of.
As a member of the human race, I can’t help but find myself interested in the origins of traditions and customs that we tend to take for granted without question. So I thought I’d do a little research and come up with some interesting factoids about Valentine’s Day that go beyond the red and pink veneer of the Hallmark holiday.
- St. Valentine’s Day began as a liturgical celebration of numerous early Christian martyrs that were named Valentine. The Valentines honored on February 14 are Valentine of Rome (Valentinus presb. m. Romae) and Valentine of Terni (Valentinus ep. Interamnensis m. Romae). Valentine of Rome was a priest in Rome who was martyred about AD 269 and was buried on the Via Flaminia. The flower crowned skull of St Valentine is exhibited in the Basilica of Santa Maria in Cosmedin, Rome.
- The most popular martyrology associated with Saint Valentine was that he was imprisoned for performing weddings for soldiers who were forbidden to marry and for ministering to Christians, who were persecuted under the Roman Empire; during his imprisonment, he is said to have healed the daughter of his jailer Asterius. Legend states that before his execution he wrote “from your Valentine” as a farewell to her.This expression “From your Valentine” is still used to this day.
- Popular modern sources claim links to unspecified Greco-Roman February holidays alleged to be devoted to fertility and love to St. Valentine’s Day, but prior to Chaucer in the 14th century, there were no links between the Saints named Valentinus and romantic love.Earlier links as described above were focused on sacrifice rather than romantic love. In the ancient Athenian calendar the period between mid-January and mid-February was the month of Gamelion, dedicated to the sacred marriage of Zeus and Hera.
- In Ancient Rome, Lupercalia, observed February 13–15, was an archaic rite connected to fertility. Lupercalia was a festival local to the city of Rome, but was abolished between 492–496.
- The day was first associated with romantic love by Geoffrey Chaucer in the High Middle Ages. In Parlement of Foules (1382), Chaucer wrote:
For this was on seynt Volantynys day
Whan euery bryd comyth there to chese his make.[“For this was on Saint Valentine’s Day, when every bird cometh there to choose his mate.”]This poem was written to honor the first anniversary of the engagement of King Richard II of England to Anne of Bohemia. A treaty providing for a marriage was signed on May 2, 1381. (When they were married eight months later, they were each only 15 years old).
- The practice of sending Valentines originated in the Middle Ages, with men drawing the names of girls at random to couple with them. This custom was combated by priests, for example by Frances de Sales around 1600, apparently by replacing it with a religious custom of girls drawing the names of apostles from the altar.
- The earliest surviving valentine is a 15th-century rondeau written by Charles, Duke of Orléans to his wife, which commences.
Je suis desja d’amour tanné , Ma tres doulce Valentinée… —Charles d’Orléans, Rondeau VI, lines 1–2
- In 1797, a British publisher issued The Young Man’s Valentine Writer, which contained scores of suggested sentimental verses for the young lover unable to compose his own. Printers had already begun producing a limited number of cards with verses and sketches, called “mechanical valentines,” and a reduction in postal rates in the next century ushered in the less personal but easier practice of mailing Valentines. That, in turn, made it possible for the first time to exchange cards anonymously, which is taken as the reason for the sudden appearance of racy verse in an era otherwise prudishly Victorian.
Valentine’s Day Outside the United States
- Due to a concentrated marketing effort, Valentine’s Day is celebrated in some East Asian countries with Chinese and South Koreans spending the most money on Valentine’s gifts.In China, the common situation is the man gives chocolate, flowers or both to the woman that he loves. In Chinese, Valentine’s Day is called (simplified Chinese: 情人节; traditional Chinese: 情人節; pinyin: qíng rén jié). The so-called “Chinese Valentine’s Day” is the Qixi Festival, celebrated on the seventh day of the seventh month of the lunar calendar. It commemorates a day on which a legendary cowherder and weaving maid are allowed to be together. Valentine’s Day on February 14 is not celebrated because it is often too close to the Chinese New Year, which usually falls on either January or February . In Chinese culture, there is an older observance related to lovers, called “The Night of Sevens” (Chinese: 七夕; pinyin: Qi Xi). According to the legend, the Cowherd star and the Weaver Maid star are normally separated by the Milky Way (silvery river) but are allowed to meet by crossing it on the 7th day of the 7th month of the Chinese calendar.
- In Japan, Morozoff Ltd. introduced the holiday for the first time in 1936, when it ran an advertisement aimed at foreigners.The custom that only women give chocolates to men appears to have originated from the translation error of a chocolate-company executive during the initial campaigns.In particular, office ladies give chocolate to their co-workers. Many women feel obliged to give chocolates to all male co-workers, except when the day falls on a Sunday, a holiday. This is known as giri-choko (義理チョコ), from giri (“obligation”) and choko, (“chocolate”), with unpopular co-workers receiving only “ultra-obligatory” chō-giri choko cheap chocolate. This contrasts with honmei-choko (本命チョコ, favorite chocolate), chocolate given to a loved one. Friends, especially girls, may exchange chocolate referred to as tomo-choko (友チョコ); from tomo meaning “friend”.In the 1980s the Japanese National Confectionery Industry Association launched a successful campaign to make March 14 a “reply day”, where men are expected to return the favour to those who gave them chocolates on Valentine’s Day, calling it White Day for the color of the chocolates being offered. A previous failed attempt to popularize this celebration had been done by a marshmallow manufacturer who wanted men to return marshmallows to women.
- In Finland Valentine’s Day is called Ystävänpäivä which translates into “Friend’s Day”. As the name indicates, this day is more about remembering all your friends, not only your loved ones. In Estonia Valentine’s Day is called Sõbrapäev, which has the same meaning.
- In Romania, the traditional holiday for lovers is Dragobete, which is celebrated on February 24. It is named after a character from Romanian folklore who was supposed to be the son of Baba Dochia. In recent years, Romania has also started celebrating Valentine’s Day, despite already having Dragobete as a traditional holiday. This has drawn backlash from several groups, institutionsand nationalist organizations like Noua Dreaptǎ, who condemn Valentine’s Day for being superficial, commercialist and imported Western kitsch.
- In the Philippines, Valentine’s Day is called “Araw ng mga Puso” or “Hearts Day”. It is usually marked by a steep increase in the price of flowers. According to findings, Singaporeans are among the biggest spenders on Valentine’s day, with 60% of Singaporeans indicating that they would spend between $100 and $500 during the season leading up to the holiday.