The well-known fact about Valentine’s Day is that it is a Hallmark Holiday; however, like Disney and his fairy tales, Hallmark did not just pull the holiday out of nowhere. Disney is known for taking an old idea and making it into a new one.
Many people forget, if they even knew, that the tales of Snow White and Bambi were very different stories before Disney got a hold of them. The same goes for Valentine’s Day. It has a long history, and the holiday was changing and evolving way before Hallmark every got a hold of it. So let’s look though the pixie dust to see what really is behind the big celebration of Valentine’s Day.
The earliest known celebration of a day like Valentine’s Day occurred in Ancient Rome. According to the History Channel, the day was known as Lupercalia. It was a pagan festival that took place in February and celebrated fertility. The priests would sacrifice a goat, then take its hide and cut it into strips. The priests would dip the strips in blood and go around the city slapping the women with the strips to make them more fertile.
Afterwards, the single women placed their names in a jar, and the bachelors would each draw one name out. Those two were then paired together for the whole year. Besides the date, there is little resemblance to the festival Lupercalia and Valentine’s Day.
The name St. Valentine’s Day came after the rise of Christianity. Pope Gelasius I declared the first St. Valentine’s Day in the 5th century. This was done as a Christian substitute for the pagan holiday, Lupercalia. The celebration was to honor Saint Valentine who was martyred by the Roman Emperor Claudius II.
In National Geographic article on “Valentine’s Day: Why We Celebrate It”, it states that there is little evidence of who Saint Valentine really was. According to legend, St. Valentine was martyred because the Emperor had made it illegal for his soldiers to get married. However, St. Valentine continued to marry them in secret until he was caught and executed. The Catholic Church made him the patron saint of marriage and love, so it seems appropriate to make him the patron of the day of love. It was a simple change so that Christians could participate in celebrating their own way.
Yet, it was not until the 13th century that Valentine’s Day really became popular. The man who started the trend was known as Chaucer. Yes, the Chaucer whom you had to read about in literature class. Steve King in “Today In Literature” states, “There are no records of St. Valentine’s Day festivities in the English court until after Chaucer’s time.” He believes that the tradition of celebrating St. Valentine’s Day was started by Chaucers poem “The Parliament of Fowls” which is dated on the 14th of Febuary and written about in honor of the marriage of King Richard II of England to Anne of Bohemia. That first Valentine’s Day poem was the start of all the holiday festivities.
Then a few centuries later, Hallmark finally got a hold of it. Valentine’s became a symbol of all love and people began sending cards to almost everyone. Kids now give valentines to their friends at school. Parents give gifts to their children and vise-versa. Couples have to take it up a noch with flowers, candy teddy bears and expensive dinners in order to make their gifts seem special. It changed from just sending a card to a lover to giving cards to everyone on Valentine’s Day, plus all those other gifts that are given to the special ones.
Like the evolution of the Disney fairy tales, the evolution of the holiday of Valentines is amazing to see. It went from the celebration of a pagan sacrifice, to the honoring of the courage of a Catholic Martyr and finally to a day of giving gifts and greetings to show appreciation. The one thing that did not change was the idea of celebrating love. The holiday has been buffed and polished beyond recognition, but just as Disney added a new twist to the fairy tales, Hallmark has added new ways to celebrate Valentine’s Day.