Every year on February 14th, thousands of bouquets, chocolates and cheesy cards are bought to give to loved ones. Restaurants gear up for one of the busiest nights of the year. Even schools are in the spirit of Saint Valentine; decorating their halls with hearts and delivering roses and candies to students’ first periods.
While a large portion of the Montgomery County community does celebrate Valentine’s Day in one way or another, not many of us know the story behind it. In fact, no one knows exactly for sure, but there have been theories on how this mysterious love-filled holiday started.
It all starts with Saint Valentine of Terni, a man widely known as the third century Roman saint that has been associated with courting and love since the High Middle Ages. He was a priest during the reign of Claudias the Cruel, who was struggling to maintain a strong army. Believing that his lack of success in building his ranks was because of the men’s attachment to their wives and that unmarried men fought better than those who were already wed, Claudias prohibited the marriage of young people. And this is when Saint Valentine comes in; instead of obeying what Emperor Claudias II had set, the priest would officiate marriages in secret.
Eventually, he was discovered and spent time in prison, where he was tortured for disobeying the emperor’s commands. Some say that during his stay in prison, he had either befriended the jailer’s daughter or fell in love with her, prompting him to leave her a farewell note; he had signed it saying “From Your Valentine” – a phrase we still use to this day. Then sadly, he was dragged before the Prefect of Rome, who condemned him to a beating with clubs and to have his head cut off. The sentence was performed on February 14th. At the end of the 5th century, Pope Gelasius declared the day as St. Valentine’s day. However, it was not until much later that the day would be associated with romance at all.
The earliest surviving valentine was written by Charles, Duke of Orleans when he was imprisoned in the Tower of London. He wrote a rondeau, a form of medieval and Renaissance French poetry, addressed to his wife after his capture at the Battle of Agincourt in 1415. Then during the 17th century, it became very popular in Great Britain to exchange small gifts and handwritten messages between friends and significant others of all social classes on February 14th. Valentine’s Day gift-giving became such a big holiday that cards started production in factories. In London alone, about 60,000 valentines were sent through the mail in 1835, regardless of the postage stamps’ high rates.
Later on in the 1900’s, printed cards would replace handwritten messages when printing technologies improved. While around 1840, Esther A. Howland became the “mother of Valentine’s Day,” being the first to mass-produce valentines with elaborate pieces. In the late 20th century, gifts began extending to the common things we see in this day and age, like roses, chocolates, teddy bears and anything with hearts.
Today, Valentine’s Day is one of the biggest holidays to buy cards for, only second to Christmas. Although the history is unclear and full of speculation, the day has definitely become a symbol of love and courtship all over the world. And, unbeknownst to many, this popular holiday finds its roots in the very material that we learn as students of Montgomery County.
Article by MoCo Student staff writer Shane Querubin of Richard Montgomery High School