the history of Valentine's Day

A Brief History of Valentine’s Day–with recipes!

Do you know the history of Valentine’s Day?

Are you thinking about writing a love note to your sweetie on February 14th? Well, you will be in good company since an estimated one billion valentine cards are sent each year, according to American Greetings. That statistic makes Valentine’s Day the second most popular card sending holiday, with Christmas being number one at 2.6 billion. Furthermore, about 85% of the Valentine cards are sent by women. Go figure. (Is it because we are more romantic, or just more expressive and considerate?)

So, how did it all get started? It turns out that Valentine’s Day has historical roots in both Christian and pagan traditions, like so many other holidays we celebrate. Doing a search for the history of Valentine’s Day will lead you to at least 2 early Christian martyrs, St. Valentine of Rome and St. Valentine of Terni. (My research began with every web surfer’s go-to guide, Wikipedia, spiraling outward in all sorts of juicy directions). However, no romantic elements are present in the early Medieval biographies of either. According to an article by Jack Oruch, the first recorded association of romantic love with Valentine’s Day is by Geoffrey Chaucer in Parlement of Foules.

Pagan tradition

Some scholars believe that the Catholic Church may have decided to celebrate Valentine’s Day in the middle of February in an effort to “christianize” the pagan Lupercalia festival. Lupercalia was a fertility festival in honor of the she wolf who suckled the fabled founders of Rome, Romulus and Remus. An order of Roman priests called Luperci, would sacrifice 2 goats and a dog, then dress boy participants in the skins. The boys would then run around the city, slapping women and crop fields with goatskin strips, which were believed to instill fertility. Far from being fearful, the Roman women welcomed being touched with the hides. According to legend, later the same day, the young women would place their names in an urn to be paired with the lucky bachelor who drew it from the pot.

A show of love

So, wherever your imagination leads you, don’t forget to show your lover that you care this February 14th. A hand written love note is much more personal than the standard greeting card, although there are very beautiful cards out there. Chocolates are a traditional way to show your affection, or better yet, make a romantic dinner for two. (Recipe follows.) Of course, if you really want to show adventure and spirit and the history of Valentine’s Day, you could invest in a goatskin hide, especially if your sweetie is a Lupercalian scholar!

A Valentine’s Day menu for two

Appetizer: Oysters on the half shell with Mignonette sauce

Salad: Mixed Baby Greens with Asian Vinaigrette

Entree: Wild Mushroom Beef Tenderloin with Broccoli Rabe

Dessert: Bananas Foster

Get the recipes


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