Introduction to St Valentine’s Day
I wrote the following for a cultural network blog, a series to introduce various holidays around the world to people of different cultures. St Valentine’s Day is more well known than others, but it was fun to summarise it in a short piece that assumed no prior knowledge of the occasion.
St Valentine’s Day is a worldwide celebration of love and romance, observed on the 14th of February. It is a day when people express their love for another by sending cards and gifts or by making romantic gestures.
Observance of St Valentine’s Day is widespread. It has no religious association for many people, though its origins are a Catholic feast day and before that the Roman pagan festival of Lupercalia. Lupercalia celebrated the coming spring, fertility and new life and was held on or around the 15th of February. As the Roman empire converted to Christianity, the holiday was replaced with the feast day of St Valentine, celebrated on the 14th of February.
The day became associated with love around the 14th century; thanks to popular depictions of love as a noble ideal. The practice of sending gifts didn’t become commonplace until much later. St Valentine’s Day gifts, or “Valentines”, were first mass-produced in England in the 19th century, but the United States developed the idea and commercialised it, creating many of the recognisable traditions we know today.
Common gifts exchanged on St Valentine’s Day are confectionary (typically chocolates) and flowers (typically roses). Greetings cards are always popular; recently, the use of digital and online cards has seen a dramatic increase, thanks to their customizability, ease of use, and smaller environmental footprint. Away from the commercial side of the holiday, many people believe that romance is best demonstrated through the hand-making of cards or gifts; love captured in the personal touch.