History.com shares information on traditions and history of Valentine's Day, which is set for Feb. 14.
1. What is Valentine's Day?
Valentine's Day is celebrated on Feb. 14 in the United States, when typically cards, gifts, candy or flowers are exchanged between lovers and other loved ones. It is believed to be named in honor of St. Valentine, as well as possibly other martyrs named Valentine. One tradition says St. Valentine, imprisoned for ministering to persecuted Christians in Rome, restored sight to the blind daughter of his jailer before he was executed. Another tradition states that another man named Valentine sent a farewell message to the jailer's daughter, saying it was from her Valentine.
It is also associated with the ancient Roman celebration of Lupercalia, a festival associated with fertility. Pope Gelasius prohibited it at the end of the Fifth Century, deeming it unChristian, and and declared Feb.14 St. Valentine's Day.
2. When did Valentine's Day begin to be popularly celebrated in association with love?
During the Middle Ages it was commonly believed in England and France that Feb. 14 marked the beginning of the mating season for birds, contributing to the idea that the middle of February should be recognized as Valentine's Day and a day for romance.
3. Who was the first to write of Valentine's Day in this context?
English poet Geoffrey Chaucer, widely-known as the author of "The Canterbury Tales," was the first to write of St. Valentine's Day as a day of romantic celebration, in his 1375 poem "Parlement of Foules," also known as "Parliament of Fowls" in its modernized title. Writing of Valentine's Day greetings, Chaucer wrote "For this was sent on Saint Valentine's Day, when every foul cometh there to choose his mate."
4. When did written Valentine's Day greetings begin to become popular?
Valentine's Day greetings were popular as far back as the Middle Ages, though written Valentine Day greetings began to appear after 1400. The oldest valentine still in existence today is a poem written in 1415 by Charles, Duke of Orleans, to his wife, while he was imprisoned in the Tower of London following his capture at the Battle of Agincourt. It's now part of the manuscript collection of the British Library, in London, England.
By the middle of the 18th Century, friends and lovers began to exchange small tokens of affection and handwritten notes. By 1900, improvements in printing technology led to printed cards starting to replace handwritten letters.
5. What about the Valentine tradition in the United States?
Americans likely began exchanging handwritten valentines in the early 1700s. By the 1840s, Ester A. Howland started selling the first mass-produced valentines in America, making elaborate creations of lace, ribbons and colorful pictures. The Greeting Card Association estimates today around 145 million Valentine's Day cards are exchanged annually, making it the second largest card-sending holiday of the year, following only Christmas.