From Your Valentine: A Look At The Love Holiday

Thursday, February 16, 2017 7:38 pm, Posted by Absolute Destruction

There’s no doubt about it — Valentine’s Day is one of Canada’s most popular non-statutory holidays. Just over 80% of the country celebrated it this year by exchanging chocolates and candy, going out for a romantic candle-lit dinner, and — of course —  sending love notes and cards. As a company that sees its fair share of paper on the average work day, we can’t help but focus on these cards.

It’s called the Hallmark holiday for a reason, with as many as 1 billion valentines sent each year. But contrary to popular belief, the tradition predates the greeting card company and can trace it origins to Late Antiquity.

Early Beginnings: Roman Fertility Festival & the Christian Church

Some historians believe our modern Valentine’s Day has ties to an ancient Roman fertility festival called Lupercalia. It was held every February 15th for over 1000 years during the Roman Empire as a way to ensure a successful growing season in the upcoming spring. Priests would sacrifice animals to appease Faunus, the Roman god of agriculture, but over time, the festivities evolved to include human fertility and Lupercalia became as much a festival about sex as it was to do with crops.

By the 5th century CE, what went on during a typical Lupercalia festival was deemed inappropriate by the Church. In a bid to placate festival goers, the Church attempted to Christianize the celebration by making the 14th of February Saint Valentine’s Day. Who this saint was is still a mystery to this day, as there were several clerics who shared a surname and martyrdom in common.

One priest was sentenced to death for having defied Emperor Claudius II’s decree that banned young, army-bound men from getting married. Another story suggests Valentine helped Christians escape from the inhumane conditions they experienced in Roman prisons. But perhaps what solidified the name Valentine with gestures of love is the story of one imprisoned individual who signed a love letter with “from your Valentine” to his sweetheart before he was sent to death.

A Growing Tradition: Middle Ages, Victorian England, & the Mother of the Valentine

While the mysterious figure of Valentine was cast as a heroic and romantic individual in the face of hardship, the ties between love and the 14th only grew over the years. In the Middle Ages, many people believed the day to mark the beginning of songbirds’ mating season. By the 15th century, people began exchanging valentines with their loved ones.

By the 17th century, Valentine’s Day was a popular holiday celebrated in the UK, with many people sending notes and gifts to their significant others. But we can thank a woman named Esther A. Howland for our tradition of sending cards. Known as the Mother of Valentine, she helped mass produce these cards in the 1840s, and by 1900 printed cards overtook handwritten letters in popularity.

Today’s Tradition

It’s easy to mistake the holiday as a Hallmark creation when you take a look at their stores. Decked top to bottom in red, pink, and white, the greeting card company takes advantage of this commercial holiday. It’s the biggest occasion to send greeting cards in the world, second only to Christmas. Many of us find it hard to resist, and we’ll buy these cards as well as chocolates, candy, flowers, and other tokens of affection.

Over the years you may have amassed quite a pile of these notes and presents, but we don’t recommend you throw them out. We especially don’t suggest you shred them, as only confidential material containing personal information needs our complete destruction — although you can always add them to the container to be shredded with financial documents if they’re from someone who broke your heart. For those notes sent from you sweetheart — keep them. They can be nice reminders of your relationship when you look back on these keepsakes.

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