Valentine's Day History a Long OneThe history of Valentine's Day is shrouded in mystery. The Catholic Church recognizes at least three different saints named Valentine and the Valentine's day rituals that we are familiar with today come from both Christian and Roman traditions.
Some believe that Valentine was a priest who lived during the third century in Rome. Emperor Claudius II discovered that single men made better soldiers, so he outlawed marriage for men who were young enough to be drafted. Valentine defied Claudius and continued to perform marriages in secret. When Valentine's actions were discovered, Claudius had him put to death.
There are also stories that Valentine wasn't performing marriages, but was helping Christians escape from prisons where they were being beaten and tortured.
A third legend suggests that Valentine actually sent the first "valentine" to a young girl who visited him while he was in prison. Before his death, some believe that he wrote her a letter, which he signed "From your Valentine," an expression that is still in use today.
In ancient Rome, the middle of February marked the beginning of spring. It was celebrated with a fertility festival dedicated to Faunus, the Roman god of agriculture, and to the founders of Rome, Romulus and Remus. Many believe that Valentine's day falls in mid February to coincide with this pagan festival, just like Christmas falls near the time of Yule, and Easter happens to be during the springtime festival of Beltane.
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. Valentine's Day didn't really catch on until around the seventeenth century, and by the middle of the eighteenth century it was a common practice to send small tokens of affection or handwritten notes to loved ones. By the end of the century, printed cards began to appear, and the Valentine's Day tradition really took off. According to the Greeting Card Association, an estimated one billion valentine cards are sent each year, 85 percent of which are purchased by women.