The History of Valentine’s Day and What It Has Come to Mean Today 

Valentine’s Day is a holiday that most people observe due to its popularity in our culture. But where did it begin and why do we set aside the date of February 14th each year for this observance?  That is the question I aimed to answer in researching this holiday tha170px-BigPinkHeartt is now widely observed worldwide.

Historical references of a Valentine’s Day- like holiday during February go back to Ancient Greece which celebrated the month of Gamelion from mid-January to mid-February in honoring the sacred marriage of Zeus and Hera. Meanwhile, in Ancient Rome, a celebration of fertility was taking place at the festival of Lupercalia, February 13–15.

Valentine’s Day or “Saint Valentine’s Day” actually dates back to the early Christian era in Ancient Rome with a liturgical celebration of Saint Valentinus who was martyred for ministering to Christians and secretly providing marriages for Roman soldiers, who were prohibited to marry.  In Slovenia, Saint Valentine or “Zdravko” later became the patron saint of beekeepers and pilgrims in association with good health and the season of spring. Saint Valentine is also celebrated as the patron saint of Lebanon by a large portion of the population.

Chaucer is Commonly Associated with Valentine’s Day Being an Observance of Love

About 1,000 years later, English poet Geoffrey Chaucer wrote “Parlement of Foules” in 1382:

“For this was on seynt Volantynys day, Whan euery bryd comyth there to chese his make.”

[“For this was on St. Valentine’s Day, when every bird cometh there to choose his mate.”]

That poem is attributed to the creation of the holiday of Valentine’s Day as a testament to romantic love.

The Holiday Originates in England and Then Comes to America Through Worcester, MA Artist

The trend of exchanging hand-made valentines started growing in England in the 18th century then grew to include gifts of flowers and confectionaries. When Worcester, Massachusetts artist Esther Howland received an ornate valentine from a business associate of her father’s in 1847, she decided to begin producing her own with imported lace and paper from England.  Her business quickly grew as the trend expanded with her earning $100,000 a year from her small business. Esther, a graduate of Mt. Holyoke College, has since become known as the “Mother of the American Valentine” and my hometown of Worcester, MA is known as the “Heart of the Commonwealth,” with a heart as its official symbol.

During the 2nd half of the 20th century, gifts like roses and heart-shaped boxes of chocolate also became popular for Valentine’s Day. In the 1980’s, the diamond industry joined the fray by promoting Valentine’s Day as a time for getting engaged and for special jewelry purchases.

Today, the Greeting Card Association estimates over one billion paper valentines are exchanged each year in the United States with teachers receiving the most highest percentage. Digital communications have further expanded Valentine’s Day as e-cards and love coupons have become available.

How Other Countries Celebrate Valentine’s Day

In many Latin American countries including: Mexico, Columbia, Costa Rica and Puerto Rico, Valentine’s Day is known as “El Día de los Enamorados” (Day of Lovers) or as “Día del Amor y la Amistad” (Day of Love and Friendship). In Guatemala, “Día del Cariño” (Affection Day) is celebrated on February 14th while in other countries, both Día del Amor y la Amistad and the Amigo Secreto (“Secret Friend”) are celebrated together.

Since 1992, India has partaken in the holiday. This trend has actually changed the very old customs regarding displays of public affection more than any other ritual since the Middle Ages. Russia, too, observes Valentine’s Day now and has since the fall of the USSR.

Of the Asian countries, Singapore is noted to have the highest expenditure for Valentine’s Day gift giving, followed by South Korea and China.  Japan, Taiwan, China and South Korea celebrate the holiday with women giving gifts of chocolate to men, who then reciprocate by giving chocolates and other gifts to women on “White Day,” celebrated March 14th.

In the Philippines, Valentine’s Day is called Araw ng mga Pusò (“Day of Hearts”) and is celebrated in much the same manner as in the West.  In Spain, Wales, Scandinavia, Romania, Portugal, France, Finland and Estonia, Valentine’s Day is often celebrated as a romantic holiday.

Where NOT to Celebrate Valentine’s Day

Traditional Hindu and Islamic countries oppose the practice of Valentine’s Day, believing it to be cultural contamination from the West. These countries include Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Iran and parts of India. In 2014, religious police in Saudi Arabia were reported to have arrested five men for celebrating St. Valentine’s Day in the company of six women. The Buraidah criminal court pronounced sentences totaling 32 years’ imprisonment and 4,500 lashes to the men.

Do You Have to Be “In Love” to Celebrate?

For a long time, singles were stigmatized by the Valentine’s Day holiday, feeling ‘left out’ of the celebration or sometimes seeing it as a failure in the romantic department.  As the holiday has taken on more of a commercial glare, it’s important to note its origins as a celebration of the spring, of birds finding their mates, or as a good time to plant crops. Whether you celebrate Valentine’s Day with chocolates, roses, greeting cards — or not at all, the sentiment of love and appreciation is what this holiday is really all about.

My Holiday Story: Bobs Watson, Child Actor Remembered

BobsAs a writer, my job is to tell stories and I’ve told thousands of them over my 30+ year career. But one of the most memorable ones was that of Bobs Watson, a former Hollywood child actor -turned – minister, who I got to interview in 1997 for a feature piece in the Los Angeles Times.

Bobs was an endearing character and had led a very interesting life, having appeared in over 125 films before the age of 10. His most memorable role was in the 1938 MGM classic, “Boys Town,” playing “Pee Wee” opposite Spencer Tracy and Mickey Rooney. That role led to an ongoing friendship with the Academy Award – winning Tracy and a later career choice to enter the ministry where he served for 30 years.

When I met him, he had been diagnosed with prostate cancer and was reflective about his life’s choices. From that interview, a friendship ensued between us until his death two years later. I have two outstanding memories of Bobs during that time.

The first was when I invited him to a Holiday party that my boyfriend and I were giving at the Pasadena Doubletree Hotel the week of Christmas. The hotel was all decked out with holiday lights and a beautiful lighted tree with ornaments emblazoned the lobby. Bobs arrived late wearing a long Santa Claus beard from a role he was playing in a local play. Our guests all surrounded him for the rest of the evening to listen to him tell story after story about what it was like to be part of the Golden Age of Hollywood during his celebrated movie career. Bobs entertained our guests, as only an actor can, and I could tell he reveled in the attention he received as the most celebrated person at our party!

About six months later, when the cancer began affecting his state of mind, I convinced Bobs to come over to my house for a paper-making session. I had started making my own handmade paper with dried flowers, pine needles, and small shells embedded in the fabric of the paper. Bobs was fascinated with this process and we worked together for hours making new sheets.

About two weeks later, he returned to my home bearing a beautiful personal gift. In an ornate, wooden – framed picture holder, he had enclosed a sheet of the paper he had made with the following inscription:

“From nothingness I came — yet my spirit blossomed into an intangible bouquet because of you!!” That gift meant more to me than anything I could ever express. Bobs struggled the last year of his life, choosing not to get medical treatment to extend his life, but rather, to go the natural route with hospice. It was hard to watch that process take place. I wanted him to fight for his life but I had to respect my friend’s wishes. On June 27, 1999 at the age of 68, Bobs met his Maker.

For the past 16 years, I have kept that framed gift on my desk where I can look at it each day and remember the kind soul that Bobs Watson was and the value of the friendships we make. Despite any age, cultural, or other disparate barriers we perceive, connecting with others and sharing our love and support, whenever possible, is what I believe gives life its meaning.

To read the Los Angeles Times story I wrote about Bobs Watson in 1997, please go to: