History of Valentine's Day: Facts, Origin, Meaning

Tweet This if You Love Is Valentine's Day an official holiday? Each year on February 14...

Is Valentine's Day an official holiday?

Each year on February 14th, many people exchange cards, candy, gifts or flowers with their special “valentine.” The day of romance we call Valentine's Day is named for a Christian martyr and dates back to the 5th century, but has origins in the Roman holiday Lupercalia.

What kind of holiday is Valentine's Day officially? 

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. 

Who imprisoned Valentine Why was he imprisoned?

Imprisoned Saint Valentine. Saint Valentine was executed on February 14th, 270 A.D. He was a priest in Rome who covertly married couples against Emperor Claudius II's dictate. Claudius had banned marriage because wedded men were unwilling soldiers and he needed to sustain his warrior-class.

How many Valentine cards are sent each year?

15% of U.S. women send themselves flowers on Valentine's Day. 73% of people who buy flowers for Valentine's Day are men, while only 27 percent are women. About 1 billion Valentine's Day cards are exchanged each year. That's the largest seasonal card-sending occasion of the year, next to Christmas. 

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History of Valentine’s Day

Every February 14, across the United States and in other places around the world, candy, flowers and gifts are exchanged between loved ones, all in the name of St. Valentine. But who is this mysterious saint, and where did these traditions come from? Find out about the history of this centuries-old holiday, from ancient Roman rituals to the customs of Victorian England.

The history of Valentine’s Day–and the story of its patron saint–is shrouded in mystery. We do know that February has long been celebrated as a month of romance, and that St. Valentine’s Day, as we know it today, contains vestiges of both Christian and ancient Roman tradition. But who was Saint Valentine, and how did he become associated with this ancient rite?

The Catholic Church recognizes at least three different saints named Valentine or Valentinus, all of whom were martyred. One legend contends that Valentine was a priest who served during the third century in Rome. When Emperor Claudius II decided that single men made better soldiers than those with wives and families, he outlawed marriage for young men. Valentine, realizing the injustice of the decree, defied Claudius and continued to perform marriages for young lovers in secret. When Valentine’s actions were discovered, Claudius ordered that he be put to death.

Other stories suggest that Valentine may have been killed for attempting to help Christians escape harsh Roman prisons, where they were often beaten and tortured. According to one legend, an imprisoned Valentine actually sent the first “valentine” greeting himself after he fell in love with a young girl–possibly his jailor’s daughter–who visited him during his confinement. Before his death, it is alleged that he wrote her a letter signed “From your Valentine,” an expression that is still in use today. Although the truth behind the Valentine legends is murky, the stories all emphasize his appeal as a sympathetic, heroic and–most importantly–romantic figure. By the Middle Ages, perhaps thanks to this reputation, Valentine would become one of the most popular saints in England and France.
While some believe that Valentine’s Day is celebrated in the middle of February to commemorate the anniversary of Valentine’s death or burial–which probably occurred around A.D. 270–others claim that the Christian church may have decided to place St. Valentine’s feast day in the middle of February in an effort to “Christianize” the pagan celebration of Lupercalia. Celebrated at the ides of February, or February 15, Lupercalia was a fertility festival dedicated to Faunus, the Roman god of agriculture, as well as to the Roman founders Romulus and Remus.

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Valentines Day Gifts and Gift Ideas

To begin the festival, members of the Luperci, an order of Roman priests, would gather at a sacred cave where the infants Romulus and Remus, the founders of Rome, were believed to have been cared for by a she-wolf or lupa. The priests would sacrifice a goat, for fertility, and a dog, for purification. They would then strip the goat’s hide into strips, dip them into the sacrificial blood and take to the streets, gently slapping both women and crop fields with the goat hide. Far from being fearful, Roman women welcomed the touch of the hides because it was believed to make them more fertile in the coming year. Later in the day, according to legend, all the young women in the city would place their names in a big urn. The city’s bachelors would each choose a name and become paired for the year with his chosen woman. These matches often ended in marriage.
Lupercalia survived the initial rise of Christianity and but was outlawed—as it was deemed “un-Christian”–at the end of the 5th century, when Pope Gelasius declared February 14 St. Valentine’s Day. It was not until much later, however, that the day became definitively associated with love. During the Middle Ages, it was commonly believed in France and England that February 14 was the beginning of birds’ mating season, which added to the idea that the middle of Valentine’s Day should be a day for romance.

Valentine greetings were popular as far back as the Middle Ages, though written Valentine’s didn’t begin to appear until after 1400. The oldest known valentine still in existence today was a poem written in 1415 by Charles, Duke of Orleans, to his wife while he was imprisoned in the Tower of London following his capture at the Battle of Agincourt. (The greeting is now part of the manuscript collection of the British Library in London, England.) Several years later, it is believed that King Henry V hired a writer named John Lydgate to compose a valentine note to Catherine of Valois.
In addition to the United States, Valentine’s Day is celebrated in Canada, Mexico, the United Kingdom, France and Australia. In Great Britain, Valentine’s Day began to be popularly celebrated around the 17th century. By the middle of the 18th, it was common for friends and lovers of all social classes to exchange small tokens of affection or handwritten notes, and by 1900 printed cards began to replace written letters due to improvements in printing technology. Ready-made cards were an easy way for people to express their emotions in a time when direct expression of one’s feelings was discouraged. Cheaper postage rates also contributed to an increase in the popularity of sending Valentine’s Day greetings.

Americans probably began exchanging hand-made valentines in the early 1700s. In the 1840s, Esther A. Howland began selling the first mass-produced valentines in America. Howland, known as the “Mother of the Valentine,” made elaborate creations with real lace, ribbons and colorful pictures known as “scrap.” Today, according to the Greeting Card Association, an estimated 1 billion Valentine’s Day cards are sent each year, making Valentine’s Day the second largest card-sending holiday of the year. (An estimated 2.6 billion cards are sent for Christmas.) Women purchase approximately 85 percent of all valentines.

Valentine’s Day Facts

Did you know that nearly 150 million cards are exchanged each Valentine’s Day? Or that more than 40,000 American are employed at chocolate companies? Explore these and dozens more Valentine’s Day facts about cards, chocolate, flowers and candy, the hallmarks of St. Valentine’s Day.

141 million Valentine’s Day cards are exchanged annually, making Valentine’s Day the second-most popular greeting-card-giving occasion. (This total excludes packaged kids valentines for classroom exchanges.) (Source: Hallmark research)

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Over 50 percent of all Valentine’s Day cards are purchased in the six days prior to the observance, making Valentine’s Day a procrastinator’s delight. (Source: Hallmark research)
Research reveals that more than half of the U.S. population celebrates Valentine’s Day by purchasing a greeting card. (Source: Hallmark research)

There are 119 single men (i.e., never married, widowed or divorced) who are in their 20s for every 100 single women of the same ages. Corresponding numbers for the following race and ethnic groups are:
  • Hispanics: 153 men per 100 women
  • Asians (single race): 132 men per 100 women (This ratio is not significantly different from that for Hispanics or non-Hispanic whites.)
  • Non-Hispanic whites (single race): 120 men per 100 women
  • Blacks (single race): 92 men per 100 women (The numbers of black men and women in this age group are not significantly different from one another.
There are 34 single men (i.e., never married, widowed or divorced) age 65 or older for every 100 single women of the same ages. Corresponding numbers for the following race and ethnic groups are:
  • Hispanics: 38 men per 100 women
  • Non-Hispanic whites (single race): 33 men per 100 women
  • Blacks (single race): 33 men per 100 women
  • Asians (single race): 28 men per 100 women
(Note: None of the ratios for the individual groups differ significantly from one another nor from the ratio for all people age 65 or older.)
904: The number of dating service establishments nationwide as of 2002. These establishments, which include Internet dating services, employed nearly 4,300 people and pulled in $489 million in revenues.
2.2 million marriages take place in the United States annually. That breaks down to more than 6,000 a day.
112,185 marriages were performed in Nevada during 2008. So many couples “tie the knot” in the Silver State that it ranked fourth nationally in marriages, even though it’s total population that year among states was 35th.
The estimated U.S. median ages at first marriage for women and men are 25.9 and 27.6 respectively, in 2008. The age for women rose 4.2 years in the last three decades. The age for men at first marriage is up 3.6 years.

Men and women in northeastern states generally have a higher median age at first marriage than the national average. In Massachusetts, for example, women were a median of 27.4 years old and men 29.1 years of age at first marriage. States where people typically marry young include Utah, where women were a median of 21.9 years and men, 23.9 years.

57% and 60% of American women and men, respectively, are 15 or older and currently married (includes those who are separated).
70%: The percentage of men and women ages 30 to 34 in 2008 who had been married at some point in their lives – either currently or formerly.

4.9 million opposite-sex cohabitating couples maintained households in 2005. These couples comprised 4.3 percent of all households.
1,241: The number of locations producing chocolate and cocoa products in 2014. These establishments employed 43,322 people. California led the nation in the number of such establishments with 136, followed by Pennsylvania with 122. (Source:http://www.census.gov/prod/www/abs/cbptotal.html)
515 locations produced nonchocolate confectionary products in 2014. These establishments employed 22,234 people.

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The total value of shipments in 2014 for firms producing chocolate and cocoa products was $13.9 billion. Nonchocolate confectionery product manufacturing, meanwhile, was a $5.7 billion industry.

3,467 Number of confectionery and nut stores in the United States in 2014. Often referred to as candy stores, they are among the best sources of sweets for Valentine’s Day.

The per capita consumption of candy by Americans in 2015 was 25.7 pounds. Candy consumption has actually declined over the last few years; in 1997, each American gobbled or savored more than 27 pounds of candy a year.
The combined wholesale value of domestically produced cut flowers in 2015 for all flower-producing operations with $100,000 or more in sales was $397 million. Among states, California was the leading producer, alone accounting for nearly three-quarters of this amount ($289 million).

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The combined wholesale value of domestically produced cut roses in 2015 for all operations with $100,000 or more in sales was $39 million. Among all types of cut flowers, roses were third in receipts ($39 million)to lilies ($76.9 million) and tulips ($39.1 million).

There were 21,667 florists nationwide in 2015. These businesses employed 109,915 people.
There were 28,772 jewelry stores in the United States in 2012. Jewelry stores offer engagement, wedding and other rings to lovers of all ages. In February 2014, these stores sold $2.6 billion worth of merchandise. (This figure has not been adjusted for seasonal variation, holiday or trading day differences or price changes). The merchandise at these locations could well have been produced at one of the nation’s 1,864 jewelry manufacturing establishments. The manufacture of jewelry was an $9 billion industry in 2014.

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