Whether it’s a day of love and romance, the day before the chocolate is reduced, or an over-commercialised made-up holiday, Valentine’s Day has a different meaning for everyone. Despite this, it may surprise you to learn that its history is even more contested than the many ways in which it’s celebrated today.
Who was St Valentine?
Catholicism actually recognises a number of saints named some variation of Valentine, Valentinus or Valentina. One of them was known to have helped Christians escape torture and punishment in Roman prisons and allegedly sent a love letter to a young girl who he had been tutoring – could this have been the first ever Valentine’s card?
Another popular suggestion for the origin of Valentine’s Day is a Roman priest (surprisingly) named Valentine who continued to perform marriages for young lovers even after they’d been outlawed. Believing that single men would make for better soldiers, marriages had been banned by the emperor.
While there are, of course, some dissimilarities, both of these origin stories revolve around prison, torture and fighting. This may appear a little alarming when you consider the meaning of Valentine’s Day today. Yet both origin stories continue to highlight Valentine (whoever he may be and whatever year he may reside in) as a compassionate and romantic figure.
Mass-produced Cards and Commercialisation
Valentine’s Day gained popularity again around the 17th century with readymade cards beginning to become available. With the expression of emotions often being discouraged at this time, these cards and the day itself provided a new opportunity for people to share their feelings with one another.
By the 1910s, Hallmark had begun mass-producing and distributing official Valentine’s Day cards, starting to mark the day as the holiday it’s now known as all over the world.
Valentine’s Day Today
In 2021, Valentine’s Day no longer has to be seen as a day only for those in relationships. After the year we’ve all had, there’s never been a better time to find some time for a bit of extra self-love and self-care. Why not take buy yourself a nice box of chocolates or take up reading a new book with a cup of tea? Remember that self-care can take different forms for different people. Whether you’re spending the day looking after yourself, treating your friends and family, or the traditional way with your partner, love on Valentine’s Day is something that shouldn’t be reserved solely for couples. Rather, it should be experienced by all.