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Valentine’s Day History

The legends behind the holiday, and Valentine’s Day cards, and things you didn’t know happened on February 14th

by Justine Jane Taft

The history of Valentine’s Day is surrounded by myth and legend. Generally, it is believed to be in celebration of Saint Valentine, although the biography often changes, leaving us to wonder which St. Valentine (if any) inspired the holiday.

Saint Valentine

Credit: David Teniers (III) (1638–1685)

One legend says that Valentine was a priest in ancient Rome. The king at the time did not allow marriage — he wanted young, unmarried men to fill his army. Valentine is rumoured to have defied the king and married couples in secret. When he was caught, he was put in jail and executed on February 14th. Another legend has Valentine in jail for not worshiping the Roman gods. Supposedly Valentine fell in love with a young girl who would visit him, and that before he died he left a letter signed “From your Valentine,” thereby starting the card-giving tradition.

Valentine’s Day Cards

Credit: Chordboard, 2008

In North America, the card-giving industry was jumpstarted in the late 1840s by a woman named Esther Howland. Howland didn’t invent Valentine’s Day cards — they existed, but were only available to the wealthy and elite. Howland enlisted the financial aid of her father to create samples and convinced her brother to take them to New York City on a sales trip. While Howland only hoped to make $200 in orders, she received $5000 in orders, and that later evolved into a $100 000-per-year business. Howland’s actions popularized the Valentine’s Day card and helped create the modern greeting card industry, earning her the post-mortem title of “Mother of the American Valentine.”

February 14th

Not only is February 14th Valentine’s Day, but it is also the day of the infamous Valentine’s Day Massacre (1929) of seven mob associates in Chicago, from the conflict between the South Side Italian gang led by Al Capone and North Side Irish gang led by Bugs Moran.

February 14th is also the day the Asbestos Strike started in Québec (1949), actor Freddie Highmore’s Birthday (1992), and the day the NEAR Shoemaker became the first starship to circle an asteroid (2000)!

One Comment

  • Fatcow

    Very interesting. I am happy we have this day no matter if it’s just a legend about St. Valentine or a real story. This day for me is like pleasant ritual to send a card, to show how much your love means to you.

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