The History of Valentine's Day

Cut-out hearts for Valentine's Day on a table

One of the most common criticisms about Valentine's Day is that it's just a "Hallmark holiday", meaning it's a holiday that exists only for commercial purposes. Every year on February 14th, sales of chocolates, cards, and roses skyrocket as individuals get struck by Cupid's arrow and go out of their way to demonstrate their love. Good luck trying to book a reservation at that romantic steakhouse in town!

We can see how the jaded among us might find Valentine's Day annoying. But we also think there's something special about taking the time to celebrate love on one dedicated day every year. Valentine's Day isn't just about honoring romantic love, but it's also about recognizing love in all its forms - love for friends, love for children, and love for family members.

Valentine's Day is one of our favorite times to give Add-A-Pearl cultured pearl necklaces and additional pearls, which won't ever wilt or melt like flowers and chocolate. What's the story behind Valentine's Day? How did it become so popular and widely recognized not only in the United States but also throughout the world? Continue reading this blog post for more information.

Roman Origins

Valentine's Day actually originated in ancient Rome, and the name "Valentine" comes from St. Valentine. However, the identity of St. Valentine is unclear, since at least three different saints in the Catholic Church bear the same name and were all martyred. One legend points to a priest named Valentine who defied Emperor Claudius II in third-century Rome. Claudius had decided that young single men should be fighting on the battlefield, so he outlawed marriage. Valentine disagreed with this decree and continued marrying young lovers in secret. As a result, he was executed - but that's just one possible origin story for the holiday.

Possibly Also Pagan

While some maintain that Valentine's Day has purely Christian origins, others think that the church placed the St. Valentine's feast day in the middle of the month to "Christianize" a pagan celebration called Lupercalia. Celebrated on February 15th, this festival is dedicated to the Roman god of agriculture as well as to Romulus and Remus, the founders of Rome. At this festival, Roman bachelors would each enter a lottery for women in the city and then become paired for the year with his chosen woman, often marrying her.

Victorian Era

In one of our previous blog posts, we wrote about how Valentine's Day was celebrated in the Victorian Era, from approximately 1820 to 1914 and corresponding with the rule of Queen Victoria. People who lived during this time period enjoyed sending and receiving sentimental cards, especially those depicting flowers and pearls. Although Valentine's Day existed long before the 1800s, as we noted above, the Victorians were particularly excited by it, creating new celebrations and traditions. Leading up to February 14th, mail carriers even received special meal allowances to keep themselves energized during the frenzied time.

Valentines in the United States

Esther Howland is known as the "Mother of the American Valentine" and is credited with bringing the Valentine's Day greeting card craze to the United States. At the age of 19, Esther received an elaborate English Valentine from one of her father's business associates and decided to start importing the materials from overseas to make her own cards. After the Civil War, Valentines reached peak popularity, and the holiday started to be seen as a profitable marketing tool for business owners.

Today, people don't only exchange cards on Valentine's Day, but some also like to give boxes of "Conversation Hearts", which are chalky candy hearts with love-inspired sayings like "Kiss Me" and "Be Mine". The hearts originated in 1847, when a "Boston pharmacist named Oliver Chase longed for a way to get in on the apothecary lozenge craze", according to an article from Mental Floss. Candy company NECCO estimates that it makes nearly 100,000 pounds of the hearts each day throughout the year in preparation for Valentine’s Day!

Who Is Cupid?

Have you ever wondered how Cupid became the official mascot of Valentine's Day? According to legend, the cherub in his "birthday suit" launches arrows at unsuspecting individuals, causing them to fall in love. The Roman God Cupid actually stems from Greek mythology as Eros, the Greek god of love. According to History.com, Eros wasn't always portrayed as a mischievous baby. Instead, he was "a handsome immortal who played with the emotions of Gods and men, using golden arrows to incite love." By the mid-300s BC, however, he was depicted as a chubby infant holding a bow and arrow.

Celebrations Around the World

Valentine's Day isn't only celebrated in the United States. In fact, many countries all over the world recognize this love-filled holiday, but each one has its own unique traditions, sometimes on different dates.

In Argentina, Valentine's Day actually lasts an entire week and is known as "the week of sweetness", taking place in July rather than February. This version of Valentine's Day actually is a commercial holiday, since it was inspired by a candy company's advertising campaign called "a candy for a kiss". We still think that's pretty sweet!

The French celebrate Valentine's Day from February 12th through the 14th, but they're more strict about reserving the holiday for couples who are romantically involved. If you send a Valentine to a Parisian friend, they may get the wrong impression! Get a taste of what it's like to celebrate Valentine's Day in France by exclaiming "Je t’aime" and ordering chocolates from La Maison Du Chocolat.

In South Korea, couples actually celebrate a form of Valentine's Day every month on the 14th day! According to the website Travel Triangle, May is for "the day of roses", while June is for "the day of kisses". In April, single people celebrate "the black day" by eating black noodles. Eating a big steaming bowl of hearty carbs doesn't sound so bad to us!

February 14th is actually "National Chocolate Day" in Ghana, one of the largest cocoa-producing countries in the world. In an effort to increase tourism to this African country, the government created the holiday, which is filled with events like musical performances, chocolate tastings, and chocolate-themed menus at restaurants.

Valentine's Day in Wales is celebrated on January 25th, which is called the "day of San Dwynwen". Carrying on a tradition that has been practiced since the 16th century, lovers exchange unique and beautifully crafted wooden spoons. If you'd like to learn more about the fascinating history of the Welsh love spoon, watch this informative YouTube video.

Women make the first move on Valentine's Day in Japan. On February 14th, they give men "giri-choco" and "honmei-choco", which are homemade chocolate gifts. The "giri" variety is reserved for male co-workers and friends, while the "honmei" variety is reserved for true love. Then men return the favor on March 14th, or White Day, when they give women white chocolate and other white gifts.

The Phillipines boasts one of the most amazing Valentine's Day celebrations. In an event sponsored by the government as a form of public service, young couples get married at one big gala event. In 2004, the Philippines government and a toothpaste brand also started a tradition that encourages couples to lock lips simultaneously at midnight. People gather by the hundreds to compete for the world record!

Planetary Valentines

If you're still not convinced that Valentine's Day is nothing more than a Hallmark holiday, you can't deny the Venus-Mars conjunction, a planetary shift that happens every year. Starting February 1st, Mars and Venus will meet in the skies through Valentine's Day for a two-month period, which is significantly longer this year than the typical 10-day meeting. Both of these planets happen to play a role in our love lives. While Mars represents masculine energy, Venus is named after the Goddess of Love and represents feminine energy, as well as "​​love, beauty, magnetic allure, and attraction".

In another blog post, we wrote about Venus and her role throughout history. Not only was she the Roman Goddess of Love, but Venus was also closely associated with the sea. Born in the ocean, she emerged from an oyster like a classically beautiful pearl. Artist Sandro Botticelli famously depicted the goddess in his painting The Birth of Venus. Thanks to Venus, pearls have become known as a natural choice for gifting real-life goddesses, the girls and women we love on Valentine's Day and every day.

Lucky for us in the United States, Valentine's Day isn't only for celebrating romantic love. Children in school exchange paper Valentines and candy, while best friends give each other chocolates and cards. Parents often treat their children to Valentine's Day treats. Did you know that 21% of Americans even give a Valentine's Day treat to their pets?

What's your favorite way to celebrate Valentine's Day, and who do you like to spoil? A personalized pearl necklace is a special gift for anyone you love. Start building your own cultured pearl necklace by visiting this page.

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