As early as the fourth
century B.C., the Romans engaged in an annual young
man’s rite of passage to the god Lupercus. The names
of teenage women were placed in a box and drawn at
random by adolescent men. Thus, a man was assigned a
woman companion, for their mutual entertainment and
pleasure (often sexual), for the duration of a year,
after which another lottery was staged.
Determined to put an end
to this 800-year-old practice, the early church
fathers sought a "lovers" saint to replace
the deity Lupercus. They found a likely candidate in
Valentine, a bishop who had been martyred some 200
mid-February was a time for Romans to meet and court
prospective mates. Young men offered women they
admired and wished to court handwritten greetings of
affection on February 14. The cards acquired St.
As Christianity spread,
so did the Valentine’s Day card. The earliest one
was sent in 1415 by Charles, Duke of Orleans, to his
wife while he was a prisoner in the Tower of London.
It is now in the British Museum.
The first American
publisher of Valentines was printer and artist Esther
Howland. Her elaborate lace cards of the 1870s cost
from five to ten dollars, with some selling for as
much as thirty-five dollars. Since that time, the
Valentine card business has flourished. Except for
Christmas, Americans exchange more cards on
Valentine’s Day than at any other time of the year.
from "Panati’s Extraordinary Origins of
Everyday things," Charles Panati, Harper &
Row, NY 1987 pp 50-52.