Lucky in Love: The History of Valentine’s Day

Valentine's Day is around the corner, so we're breaking down where it came from, why we celebrate, and just who's responsible for those awful gifts.
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Lucky in Love: The History of Valentine’s Day

Valentine's Day is around the corner, so we're breaking down where it came from, why we celebrate, and just who's responsible for those awful gifts.
Facebook
Twitter
History of Valentines Day The Bullet

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THE BACKGROUND

You either love it or love to hate it. 

Either way, Valentine’s Day is fast approaching and we’re here to share all the schmaltzy (and downright bizarre) details of how it started and why we insist on torturing ourselves celebrating it. Every Single. Year.

SAVAGE LOVE

Legend has it that Valentine’s Day is rooted in the ancient Pagan festival of Lupercalia— a mid-February fete that involved Roman men whipping young women with animal hides to boost their fertility (like we said…bizarre). This, ahem, tradition continued through the fifth century until the Pope swapped out Lupercalia for Saint Valentine’s Day.

SPEAKING OF SAINT VALENTINE…

…we bet you’re wondering how he became the inspiration for this eponymous celebration of love? 

For starters, there are conflicting theories about Valentine’s identity because there were at least two men who fit the description (turns out it was a common name in Ancient Rome) and both were executed in the third century. 

The first Valentine in question was an imprisoned priest who, we’re told, wrote a love letter to his jailor’s daughter signed “from your Valentine” the night before he was killed. The second was a rogue bishop who defied the emperor’s ban on marriage by performing weddings for young lovers in hiding (that is pretty romantic, TBH). When his actions were exposed, he was sentenced to death and executed on — you guessed it — February 14. 

Despite its starry-eyed beginnings, Valentine’s Day didn’t take hold as a romantic holiday until the Middle Ages when the French and English marked it to coincide with birds’ mating season. It was also during that time that Charles, Duke of Orleans, penned a French poem to his wife while jailed in the Tower of London — an ode that became the oldest known Valentine’s message on record. 

Today, the centuries-old tradition of sending Valentine’s greetings has translated into approximately one billion cards sent each year, putting it right behind Christmas as the second-most-popular card-sending money-grab celebration on the calendar.

ONE LOVE

While many North Americans deride Valentine’s Day as just a “Hallmark Holiday,” this annual love-fest is marked with joy and enthusiasm around the globe. 

• Philippines

This nation of tiny islands celebrates Valentine’s Day (a.k.a. Hearts Day) in a big way with mass weddings. Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised from the country whose citizens boast feeling the most loved of any population in the world. 

• Japan

When it comes to spoiling their significant others with Valentine’s treats, it’s women who take the lead in Japan. But don’t worry, men have to return the gift-giving favour on White Day which falls exactly one month later.

• Germany

Valentine’s celebrations in Germany have gone to the pigs — literally! As a customary symbol of luck, Germans are just as likely to exchange pig-themed gifts as they are to send red roses and hearts. (We never say no to bacon.)

• Ghana

In 2007, the Ghanaian government decided to capitalize on its reputation as a cocoa-producing powerhouse by declaring February 14 National Chocolate Day.

WHAT’S LOVE GOT TO DO WITH IT?

If romance isn’t your jam, don’t fret. Here are some non-traditional ways to celebrate this year. 

• Galentine’s Day

Brilliantly inspired by a sitcom, Galentine’s Day is a chance to show all the important ladies in your life how much they mean to you. Plan a getaway or a sleepover or a Netflix night in — just spend it with your sisterhood and feel all the love.

•Steak and BJ Day

Don’t shoot the messenger, we didn’t invent it! This holiday (and we use that term loosely) is celebrated on March 14 to be the antitheses of Valentine’s Day. And it’s as simplistic as it sounds. Thankfully, a portion of money raised through the official website goes to breast cancer research, so…there’s that.

ROMANTIC TRUTHS

Whether you’re in a relationship or flying solo this Valentine’s Day, we’ve compiled some love-filled trivia to stimulate, your…um, brain.

• The tradition of exchanging chocolates isn’t as old as you think. It all started in the 1800s with Richard Cadbury (yes, THAT Richard Cadbury) who — in his effort to widen the appeal of chocolate beyond a hot beverage — created “eating chocolates” that were packaged in decorative boxes with flowers and hearts. 

• You know those nasty nostalgic candy hearts that will be missing from your celebrations this year? Well, they didn’t start out as candy at all.

• The image of Cupid, son of Venus, as a flying baby began showing up on Valentine’s greetings in the late 1800s. Legend has it that being pierced by one of Cupid’s arrows will make one fall in love. 

• Ouch! To counter all the sappiness around them, people in the 19th and 20th centuries used to send anonymous “vinegar valentines” to people they disliked.

And there’s all you need to know about this divisive holiday.

Happy Valentine’s Day!


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