The History of Valentine’s Day

Valentine’s Day is a very popular date for many people. Whether you are celebrating a new love, or a long-term relationship, or you’re at home sulking over a lost love, Valentine’s Day is a significant day for almost everyone. On this day across the country cards, flowers, candies, love letters, and cute and furry little stuffed animals are sent, given, and unwrapped every year. Countless couples go to many different places for dates to show their significant others how much they care and value them. Have you ever wondered where Valentine’s Day originated and why it is as important and as popular as it is? The history of Valentine’s Day tells the story.

The origination of this popular holiday is all in the name of St. Valentine. Who is this saint? This saint is apparently a very mysterious entity. While mystery shrouds this holiday, what is known is that February has been a romantic month for a long time. St. Valentine’s Day contains components of both Christian traditions and Ancient Roman traditions. The Catholic Church today recognizes at least three saints with the name of Valentine or Valentinus. All of these recognized saints were at one point in time martyred.

One legend that is circulating about this traditional holiday is that Valentine was a priest who had served during the third century in Rome.  The Emperor of Rome at the time was Emperor Claudius II. He decided that single men, those without women or children to take care of and support made better soldiers than those who were married with children. Because of the conclusion he came to, Claudius ordered the outlaw of marriage for young men, whom he viewed were his crop of potential soldiers. Valentine realized the injustice of such a decree and defied Claudius’s command by continuing to perform marriages for young lovers even though it was very dangerous for him to do so. When Claudius discovered the actions of Valentine, Claudius ordered that he immediately be put to death.

Other legends include suggestions that Valentine was killed while he was trying to help Christians escape harsh Roman prisons where they were possibly being beaten and even tortured at times. So now you are wondering why he had to do with a holiday that is a famous day for lovers. According to a legend, the first Valentine greeting was actually allegedly sent by Valentine himself.  When he was in prison, it is believed that Valentine fell in love. The person he fell in love with was a young girl, possibly his captor’s daughter. She was said to have visited him during his confinement while in prison.

Before Valentine’s death, it is alleged that he wrote her a love letter. He signed this letter with the expression “From your Valentine”. This expression is still used today on Valentine’s Day and is signed at the bottom of cards and Valentine gifts. Though the real truth behind the Valentine legends is still somewhat of a mystery, what is clear is why Valentine is looked upon as a brave, compassionate, and romantic person. By the Middle Ages, Valentine was, not surprisingly, one of the most popular saints throughout England and France.

Times Have Changed: The Automobile, Social Values and Dating

Have you ever looked closely at historic images of cities, say from the 1930’s? The social atmosphere is very different. The fronts of buildings were positioned close to the sidewalk, families lived close to the center of town with a place to sit outside to greet the passersby, and the traffic was chiefly pedestrian. As a result, dating has drastically been affected by modern changes in the past 50 years.

The pedestrian and social enemy, the automobile: Since the invention of the automobile, designers and builders had to make space for parking. Well, this was a challenge at best as each automobile requires around one hundred square feet. A person requires approximately four square feet of space. Vehicular lanes had to be accommodated, restricting space for pedestrians, and adding vehicular and pedestrian conflict. Moreover, the vehicle is now regarded as the most important component of our transportation infrastructure with regard to safety and efficiency. What does this do to our social space? After the engineers design a street, and the builders accommodate the parking at the front of the buildings, the once social space turns into dead, vehicular only, depressing places. Imagine walking next to the parking lot of a shopping mall, next to a six lane arterial highway. Not much chance that you will find another pedestrian with which to rub shoulders. Conversely, a historic place such as Boston, is packed with life, and very little suburbs. In suburbia, the place to find your next date, the Circle K convenience store.

Prior to the proliferation of the automobile, people met on the streets. Pedestrians filled the streets with life that we can easily imagine, and is demonstrated in most historic cities around the world. In the historic town of Ybor City in Tampa, an old Cuban cigar manufacturing city, the workers had little houses called “casitas” which exhibited high ceilings, raised floor for air convection, and a quaint and approachable front porch. Every Saturday, the family would walk to the center of town to meet the neighbors, rub shoulders with others, and do the weekly shopping. Vehicles were not necessary, neither were large houses. The outside public spaces served as an extension of the interior space of their homes. This experience is still shared in many towns in Europe.

How are we easily able to meet new people during these modern times of suburbs, proliferation of the automobile, and a new understanding of an internal world. Computers and cell phones have been the crutch for the absence of social places. It would be nice to revive the values we once had, on the safe pedestrian filled streets and plazas.