Many celebrate this holiday by showering their significant others, families, and friends with chocolates, flowers, and little trinkets designed to express just how strongly they feel. In fact, in 2017, the National Retail Federation reports that $18.2 billion was spent on various Valentine’s Day goodies, down slightly from the $19.7 billion that was spent the year before.
So, how did Valentine’s Day get to be as big as it is today? Answering that question begins with first understanding how it came about, which, as it turns out, is a bit of a mystery.
A Day Built on Mystery
Ask many historians how Valentine’s Day got its name, and many will tell you that it was named after Saint Valentine. However, History.com points out that there were at least three different saints who went by this name or some derivative of it, and each appears to have his own story.
For instance, one of the Valentines was a priest who married young lovers secretly somewhere around 270 A.D., despite Rome’s Emperor Claudius II’s law that young men could not be married as it made them better soldiers. Legend has it that Valentine was put to death for performing these ceremonies, yet some suggest that he was actually killed for other reasons.
Another potential explanation is that there was a martyr by the name of Valentine who, while imprisoned, fell in love with his jailor’s daughter. To introduce himself to her, he sent her a letter, signing it “From your Valentine,” a signature that is still used by many in cards and other expressions of love to this day.
Which story is right? No one really knows. So, why do we celebrate this day on February 14th? Well, it appears that this is a bit unclear too.
The Potential Meanings Behind February 14th
Some suggest that this date was chosen as it was the date that Valentine died. Others believe that it is the date he was eventually laid to rest.
Still, others say that February 14th has no association with Valentine whatsoever and was, instead, a date selected by the Christian church, in part, due to the Roman holiday, the ‘Feast of Lupercalia’, being celebrated on February 15th. This feast was a festival dedicated to the fertility of both women and the land and involved the sacrificing of goats and dogs.
Yet another offering for Valentine’s Day falling on this mid-February day is that it is the day that Middle Age era French and English said was the day that birds began to mate; thus, it was also the day that humans should celebrate their love as well. And many still do, celebrate their love that is, to this day, and they do it all over the world.
Valentine’s Day Around the World
Valentine’s Day is currently celebrated in Denmark, France, South Korea, the United Kingdom, China, Europe, Brazil, and many other places, according to Viator, a company that researches and books tours and activities across the globe. Each geographic location has put its own spin on the holiday as well.
For example, in Denmark, Valentine’s Day is celebrated by the exchange of pressed white flowers. Yet, in England, single women honor this holiday by placing bay leaves on their pillow the night before, an action thought to inspire dreams of the men they would eventually marry.
Additionally, not all countries celebrate Valentine’s Day on the same day. While the U.S. and some other countries honor this day of love on February 14th, Brazilians celebrate “Lover’s Day” on June 12th each year. China’s version of Valentine’s Day is called Qixi and it is honored on the seventh day of the seventh lunar month, or sometime in the beginning of August.
although the origins of Valentine’s Day are a bit of a mystery and it is celebrated in different ways and in different times around the world, perhaps the biggest thing to remember is that it is a day that celebrates love. A day to be thankful for all of the people in our lives who hold a piece (or a chunk) of our hearts.
So, the question to you is: how will you celebrate love, not only on Valentine’s Day, but all year long? Though the answer is likely different for each of us, one thing is clear. Love is a major part of our past, our present, and, hopefully, our future. That makes it worth celebrating, any way you wish.