A lot of conjecture and mystery surrounds the history of Valentine's Day--and the story of its patron saint. February has long been celebrated as a month of romance, and St. Valentine's Day contains shades of both Christian and ancient Roman tradition.
At least three different saints named Valentine or Valentinus are recognized by the Catholic Church, all of whom were martyred. One legend contends that Valentine was a priest who served in Rome during the third century. Emperor Claudius II supposedly outlawed marriage for young men during his rule, feeling that single men made better soldiers. Valentine, realizing the injustice of the decree, defied Claudius and continued to perform marriages for young lovers in secret. When Valentine's actions were discovered, Claudius ordered that he be put to death.
Other stories suggest that Valentine may have been killed for attempting to help Christians escape harsh Roman prisons. According to one legend, the imprisoned Valentine sent the first "valentine" greeting himself after he fell in love with a young girl--possibly his jailor Asterius’ daughter--who visited him during his confinement. Before his death, it is alleged that he wrote her a letter signed "From your Valentine," an expression that is still in use today. Although the truth behind the Valentine legends is speculative at best, the stories all emphasize his appeal as a sympathetic, heroic and--most importantly--romantic figure.
From A Pagan Festival in February to A Day for Romance
While some hold that Valentine's Day is celebrated in the middle of February to commemorate the anniversary of Valentine's death or burial--which probably occurred around A.D. 270--others claim that the Christian church may have decided to place St. Valentine's feast day in the middle of February in an effort to "Christianize" the pagan celebration of Lupercalia. Celebrated at the ides of February, or February 15, Lupercalia was a fertility festival dedicated to Faunus, the Roman god of agriculture, as well as to the Roman founders Romulus and Remus.
Lupercalia survived the initial rise of Christianity but was eventually squashed by the church. At the end of the 5th century, Pope Gelasius declared February 14 St. Valentine's Day. It was not until much later, however, that the day became irrevocably associated with love. Valentine greetings were popular as far back as the Middle Ages, though written Valentine's didn't begin to appear until after 1400. The oldest known valentine still in existence today was a poem written in 1415 by Charles, Duke of Orleans, to his wife while he was imprisoned in the Tower of London.
In addition to the United States, Valentine's Day is celebrated in Canada, Mexico, the United Kingdom, France and Australia. In Great Britain, Valentine's Day began to be popularly celebrated around the 17th century. By the middle of the 18th, it was common for friends and lovers of all social classes to exchange small tokens of affection or handwritten notes and by 1900 printed cards began to replace written letters due to improvements in printing technology and cheaper postage.
In the 1840s, Esther A. Howland of Worcester, Massachusetts began selling the first mass-produced valentines in America. Howland, known as the “Mother of the Valentine,” made elaborate creations with real lace, ribbons and colorful pictures known as "scrap." Today, next to Christmas, Valentine’s Day is the second largest card-sending holiday of the year. According to the Greeting Card Association, an estimated 1 billion Valentine’s Day cards are sent each year.
Celebrate Valentine's Day Maine Style
During the month of February we are running a February is for Lovers promotion where folks who book a two night stay can request a complimentary reward of a fresh rose, a box of Harbor Candy Shop chocolates, and a half bottle of Prosecco. In addition, some local shops are offering special February discounts. At Nabos Apparel, any jewelry purchase comes with a 20% discount. At Carrots & Company, take 25 % off storewide and 30% off all jewelry. At Twigs, take 30% off all jewelry.