The history of Valentine’s Day and the story of its patron saint is shrouded in mystery. We do know that February has long been celebrated as a month of romance, and that St. Valentine’s Day, as we know it today, contains vestiges of both Christian and ancient Roman tradition. But who was Saint Valentine?
One legend contends that Valentine was a priest who served during the third century in Rome. When Emperor Claudius II decided that single men made better soldiers than those with wives and families, he outlawed marriage for young men. Valentine refused to adhere to Claudius’ law and continued to perform marriages in secret. When Valentine’s actions were discovered, Claudius ordered that he be put to death.
Another legend believes Valentine was imprisoned and, during this time, he fell in love with a young woman who was the jailor’s daughter. She visited him while he was in confinement and, before his death, wrote her a letter and signed it “From your Valentine.”
Other stories suggest that Valentine helped Christians escape harsh Roman prisons and was sentenced to death as a result of this. The truth behind the Valentine legends is not clear, but the stories all emphasize his appeal as a sympathetic, heroic and romantic figure. By the Middle Ages, Valentine would become one of the most popular saints in England and France.
While some believe that Valentine’s Day is celebrated in the middle of February to commemorate the anniversary of Valentine’s death or burial, others believe
that the Christian church may have decided to place St. Valentine’s feast day in the middle of February to “Christianize” the pagan celebration of Lupercalia. Celebrated on 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. The tradition then was to sacrifice a goat and use the blood and the skin to gently slap women and fields of crops to make them more fertile.
Lupercalia survived the initial rise of Christianity, but was outlawed at the end of the 5th century when Pope Gelasius declared February 14 St. Valentine’s Day. It was not until much later, however, that the day became definitively associated with love. In the Middle Ages, it was believed in France and England that February 14 was the beginning of the birds’ mating season, which also contributed to the idea that it was a day for romance. 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 following his capture at the Battle of Agincourt.
Several years later, it is believed that King Henry V hired a writer named John Lydgate to compose a valentine note to Catherine of Valois.
In addition to the United States, Valentine’s Day is celebrated in Canada, Mexico, the United Kingdom, France and Australia.
By the middle of the 18th century,it was common for people to exchange small tokens of affection or handwritten notes. In the 1900’s, printed cards began to replace handwritten letters due to improvements in the quality of printing. Americans probably began exchanging hand-made valentines in the early 1700s.
In the 1840s, Esther A. Howland began selling the first mass-produced valentines in America. Howland, known as the “Mother of the Valentine,” made elaborate cards with real lace, ribbons and colorful pictures and illustrations.
Today, according to the Greeting Card Association, an estimated 1 billion Valentine’s Day cards are sent each year, making Valentine’s Day the second largest card-sending holiday of the year.
Vanilla Cupcake Recipe
• 2 cups flour
• 1/2 teaspoon salt
• 2 teaspoons baking powder
• 1/2 cup butter, softened
• 3/4 cup sugar (if you like your cupcakes very sweet, add a little more.)
• 2 eggs
• 1 cup milk
• 1 teaspoon vanilla essence (optional)
Preheat oven to 375ºF; line muffin cups with papers. Cream butter and sugar ‘till light and fluffy. Beat in eggs one at a time. Add flour (mixed with baking powder and salt) alternating with milk, beat well; stir in vanilla. Divide evenly among pans and bake for 18 minutes. Let cool in pans.
READY IN: 40 mins
YIELDS: 20-25 cupcakes
Recipe courtesy of GeniusKitchen.com