Occasions for greeting cards
The actual origin of this established rite, today celebrated on February 14th, is unknown. It originated predominantly in the Anglo-American culture where lovers presented gifts of sweets, flowers or card gifts to their intimate companions. Nevertheless, it developed into a likable custom, giving some of the shy admirers the opportunity to reveal safely their feelings toward those they secretly admired (or vice-versa).
Since the 3rd century C.E., this day has been known as the Roman festival of Lupercalia. In those days, young men drew the name cards of girls they'd woo for the entire next year. The first mention in connection with the exchanging of greeting cards during this festival was noted already in the 15th century. One love letter that was smuggled out of the Tower of London in 1445 is thought to be the oldest (Valentine's) card ever.(2)
During the mid-1700's, men began a custom of creating handmade Valentine cards on which they would promise a marriage. Esther Howland, of the United States, published the first printed Valentine's Day cards in the 40's of the 19th century.
Several legendary martyrs bore the Saint Valentine's name:
1. The first martyr named Valentinus was the Roman priest and physician, who was executed on February 14th, 270 C.E. by the Emperor Claudius II Gothicus during the persecution of Christians and later buried in Via Flaminia. The Pope Julius I allegedly built a basilica above his grave, though today it is nonexistent. According to the legend, Valentinus cured the jailer's blind daughter and just before his execution, he sent her his last message signed; "From your Valentinus".
2. Another executed martyr named Valentinus was the bishop of Terni, who was likewise executed in Rome and whose remains were later transferred to Terni. His garden served as the secret meeting point for amorous couples.
3. Yet the third Valentinus, a priest in Rome, helped unite a couple whose marriage was inhibited by the Emperor Claudius II. He managed to marry the couple in secret before the authorities were able to find the hideaway and before they arrested and executed him.
It is possible that all three legends refer to the same event and the same person. However, any direct association between the saints and the modern tradition is unverifiable.
(1) Fink, Joanne (1992). Greeting Card Design. Glen Cove, N.Y.: PBC International.
(2) Encyclopedia Britannica (1998).
Text: Günter Garbrecht 2001, amended 2010
Translation: Marcel Valtr, 2011