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Article: How Valentine’s Day Became a Day of Love and Romance

How Valentine’s Day Became a Day of Love and Romance

If ever there was a tale of good triumphing over evil, the story of Valentine’s Day is it! It seems that this wonderful occasion to celebrate romance and love actually originated from violent celebrations in ancient Rome! From a day of drunken debauchery, the festivity was radically transformed, in no small part thanks to the Catholic Church, the Normans, Chaucer, Shakespeare and the Industrial Revolution!

So, with Valentine’s Day approaching and our brand-new range of Date Night Bonbons soon to be released, what better topic for our first blog of the New Year?  

How Valentines Day became a day of romance

An Inauspicious Beginning

Back in the day, the ancient Romans celebrated Lupercalia, an annual feast and fertility ritual, from the 13th to the 15th February. In line with tradition, the men would kill a goat and a dog as sacrifices to the gods and then run through the streets, whipping women with the hides of the animals they’d just slaughtered. By many accounts, the men were drunk, naked and disorderly and the women purportedly willing victims to the whipping ordeal, believing it would make them fertile.

Also included in the festivity was a matchmaking lottery in which young men drew the name of a woman from a jar, with the couples then pairing up for the rest of the fete - and beyond if it was a perfect match!

Lupercalia – Precursor to Valentine’s Day

Lupercalia – Precursor to Valentine’s Day

Credit: The Classical Girl

The ancient Romans were also responsible, it seems, for the name of our modern day of love and romance, although for a rather unfortunate reason. The Roman Emperor Claudius 11 is said to have beaten and executed two men, both called Valentine, on the 14th February on different years of his three-year reign (268-270). Other sources claim that just one man by the name of Valentine was executed but that it’s unclear whether he was a bishop or a priest. And yet other sources claim that three different Valentines were martyred on this day – a Roman priest, a bishop of Interamna (modern Terni) and a man of the cloth in Africa, about whom little is known.

In any case, the Catholic Church canonised Valentine and so St Valentine’s became one of the days of the saints. And later, in the fifth century, Pope Gelasius I combined St Valentine's Day with the feast of Lupercalia in one of many attempts to put an end to such pagan rituals. However, apart from more people keeping their clothes on, the festival remained a day of drunken revelry, fertility and love. Around the same time, the Normans  were celebrating Galatin’s Day, Galatin meaning ‘lover of women’. It’s likely that, somewhere along the way, this day became confused with Valentine’s Day, partly because they sound alike.

St Valentine

St Valentine

Credit: Catholic Singles

Valentine’s Day Grows Sweeter

As time went on, the day became more about love and less about full-on revelry. The 14th century English poet Geoffrey Chaucer, in addition to writing the famous Canterbury Tales, is also credited with being the first to romanticise Valentine’s Day in his Parliament of Fowls:

For this was sent on Seynt Valentyne's day
Whan every foul cometh ther to choose his mate

Chaucer’s 699-line poem is ostensibly about birds choosing their mates but might also have been written to honour the marriage of King Richard II of England to Anne of Bohemia, which took five years of negotiation. In what has been interpreted as a mirroring of this hard-won marriage negotiation, three eagles in Chaucer’s Parliament of Fowls vie for the hand of one single female eagle. The female refuses to choose and calls on Mother Nature, asking her for another year to decide. Mother Nature grants the wish and consoles the suitors, saying ‘A year is not too long to endure’.

If, by chance, you’re into literary metaphors, you might like Chaucer’s story of idealised love in the Middle Ages. It not only provides one of the earliest references to Valentine's Day being a special day for lovers, but also represents women’s increasing say in their own love lives (no more so-called voluntary whippings!). Find the full poem here.

Chaucer and the Parliament of Fowls

Chaucer and the Parliament of Fowls

Credit: Lit Hub

Another literary giant, William Shakespeare further stoked the flames of Valentine’s, mentioning the day in two of his highly-acclaimed plays. By Shakespeare’s time (late 16th to early 17th century), the link between Valentine’s Day and birds choosing their mate had become entrenched in traditional folklore. In A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Theseus, the Duke of Athens, stumbles upon four sleeping lovers and compares them to mating birds by saying:

Good morrow, friends.

Saint Valentine is past.

Begin these woodbirds but to couple now?

In Hamlet, the playwright alludes to the superstition that if two single people should meet on the morning of the 14th February, then they will be likely to get married:

To-morrow is Saint Valentine's day,
All in the morning betime,
And I a maid at your window,
To be your Valentine.

William Shakespeare romanticised Valentine’s Day

William Shakespeare romanticised Valentine’s Day

Credit: Britannica 

The Gift Giving Tradition

Greeting Cards

You might think that gift giving on Valentine’s Day is a modern commercial exploit … but this is not altogether so! In fact, right back in the Middle Ages, suitors and lovers would exchange handmade paper cards and various gifts on this day of romance. Legend has it that the very first Valentine greeting was sent by (one of those named) Valentine when he was in prison for continuing to marry young Catholic couples, in defiance of the Roman Emperor Claudius II’s decree. It’s said that Valentine sent a message either to a visitor he fell in love with or to the jailer’s daughter (or to one and the same … hazy history … ), signing it ‘from your Valentine’, thus beginning today’s special expression.

And so it continued until the 19th century when the Industrial Revolution ushered in factory-made cards. Immediately popular, the cards were often lavishly decorated with lace and ribbons and imprinted with chubby bow-and-arrow-wielding Cupids (the Roman god of love). Then, in 1913, Hallmark Cards of Kansas City, Missouri - the oldest and largest greeting card manufacturer in the United States – started to mass produce Valentine cards and the 14th February has never been the same since. 

An Early Acrostic Valentine’s Card

An Early Acrostic Valentine’s Card

Credit: Historical Romance Review

Chocolate Sweets

The Industrial Revolution also helped to bring chocolate into pride of place. In the mid-1840s, British chocolate maker J.S. Fry & Sons produced the first modern-day chocolate bar, turning the sweet into something to eat rather than drink. And, seizing an opportunity not to be missed, rival company Cadbury then connected chocolate to Valentine’s Day. ‘Fancy Boxes’ of chocolates were launched in 1861 and what a romantic treat they were – an assortment of sweets filled with chocolate-flavoured ganache, marzipan and fruity creams, all nestled in lace doilies.

As an interesting side note, Cadbury’s chocolates were first produced as an alternative to alcohol. Company founder John Cadbury was a staunch Quaker whose religious beliefs prohibited him from indulging in any intoxicants. He also believed that chocolate consumption might reduce some of the alcohol-related causes of poverty in England at the time and spent his life toiling to help those in need.

By 1868, the Cadbury company had taken their production to the next level, producing Fancy Boxes in the shape of a heart for the special February day. It was no longer just the chocolates that were prized, but also the boxes themselves, which were used to store love letters, locks of hair and other romantic mementoes. Heart-shaped boxes of chocolates went on to become a global and enduring commercial phenomenon, with tens of millions now sold each year.

Fancy Boxes for Fancy Chocolates

Fancy Boxes for Fancy Chocolates

Credit: Candy Favorite

Red Roses

And, finally, where would we be without red roses to celebrate love and romance? This beautiful yet thorny flower has quite a history when it comes to its association with courtship and Valentine’s Day.

According to the Greek poet Anacreon, the white rose first appeared during the birth of Aphrodite, the goddess of love. The goddess later discovered a plot against her lover, Adonis, who would be mauled by a wild boar while out hunting. Rushing to warn him, Aphrodite cut her foot on some rose thorns and specks of her blood stained the flower’s petals crimson. Alas, she arrived too late for Adonis who had died of his injuries, but the strong and enduring association between the red rose and love had begun!

When Christianity started to spread, roses became incorporated in Bible stories as well. For example, the Virgin Mary, a symbol of love and purity, is said to be crowned in thornless roses because she is without sin. And the Catholic Church is known to decorate confessionals with roses as a sign of confidentiality during confession. 

During the Victorian Era (1837-1901), flowers started to take on different meanings and messages, often according to their colours, which still hold true today. Yellow roses symbolise friendship, orange represent desire, pink mean gratitude and red, of course, symbolise love and passion.

And colour is not the only thing to consider this Valentine’s Day! The perfect and complete bouquet of roses contains a dozen stems (who hasn’t heard of a dozen red roses!) because they symbolise the 12 months in a full year (may each one be full of love!), as well as the 12 signs of the Zodiac (may all your stars align!)

A Valentine Bouquet of 12 Red Roses

A Valentine Bouquet of 12 Red Roses

Credit: Good Housekeeping

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