Thursday, February 10, 2011

Valentine's Day History

Mosaic of St. Valentine

Every February 14, across Canada and other places in the world, cards and gifts are exchanged in the name of St. Valentine.   This centuries-old holiday, from ancient Roman rituals to the customs of Victorian England continues to be a mystery.  St. Valentine's Day incorporates both Christian and ancient Roman traditions.  Today the Roman Catholic Church recognizes at least three different saints named Valentine or Valeninus, all of whom where martyred. 

(Latin: Valentinus)

According to historians, one legend suggests that Valentine was a priest who served during the third century in Rome.  The Emporer Claudius II decided to outlaw marriage for young men so they could make better soldiers rather than family men.  Valentine realized the injustice of this decree and defied Claudius by performing marriages in secret for young lovers.  When Claudius discovered Valentine's actions, he was ordered to death.

Another legend claims Valentine may have been killed for attempting to help Christians escape harsh Roman prisons where they were often beaten and tortured.  Valentine actually sent the first "valentine" greeting to himself while in prison.  

Around 270 AD, others believe people began to celebrate Valentine's day in the middle of February to commemorate the anniversary of Valentine's death or burial.

Although  the truth behind  the Valentine legends are unclear, stories do emphasize his personality as a sympathetic, heroic and romantic figure.  Valentine became one of the most popular saints during the Middle Ages in places such as England and France.

Around seventeenth century,  Valentine's Day became popular in Great Britain.  By eighteenth century, it was common for people of all social classes to exchange small tokens of affection or hand written notes.  With the invention of the printing press, hand written notes were gradually replaced and printed cards were an easy way for people to express their emotions.  Cheap postage also contributed to the popularity in sending Valentine's Greetings.  Later, valentines became popular in North America and in the 1840s, Ester Allan Howland  began to sell the first  mass-produced valentines  in the United States. 

Valentine by Ester Allen Howard

According to the Greeting Card Association, an estimated one billion valentine cards are sent every year. Today Valentine's Day Greetings are celebrated in the Canada, the United States, Mexico, the United Kingdom, France, Denmark, Italy, Japan and Australia.

Today, the Santa Maria in Cosmedin - Rome, Italy, has the skull and bones of St. Valentine which are usually on display in a glass reliquary and brought out for his feast day on February 14. 

Valentine Art:
The Miracle of Saint Valentine, by Pierre Asthasie Theodore Senties.
St. Valentine Baptizing St. Lucilla by Jacopo Bassano
Trial of a Saint by Bart Zeitblom

Valentine Activities:
Valentine's Day Art Activities for Kids
Valentine's Day Crafts and Activities
Hearts and Crafts by Kids' Turn Central
Kids Domain Valentine's Day Guide- Also see their crafts page

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