The Inside Story from Italian Wine Merchants

A Brief Look at the History of Valentine’s Day

Posted on | February 8, 2016 | Written by Janice Cable | No Comments

Lupercalia as painted by Domenico di Pace Beccafumi

Lupercalia as painted by Domenico di Pace Beccafumi

Valentine’s Day is this week, and here the truth: Valentines Day is, was, and always will be a completely fictitious holiday. It is so grounded in fantasy that it makes the Easter bunny look real. The name, Valentine’s Day, supposedly comes from a Catholic saint, but he never existed. Finding St. Valentine is kind of like playing “What’s My Line” with three obscure saints, all called Valentine, all martyred at some point during the third century A.D., none of whom had anything to do with romantic love.

This holiday of love has its origins when in 426 the Catholic Church wanted to tame the savage beast of Lupercalia, a Roman holiday of love wherein would-be lovers engaged in a precursor to the ’70s swingers key parties and picked their partner’s name out of an urn, or merely celebrate as naked young men ran through the streets swatting women with leather thongs, depending upon your interpretation and time period. In the mid-fourteenth century, Valentine’s Day moved from the 15th of February to the 14th, the day when France and England celebrated the pairing of birds for mating season.

However, it wasn’t until 1847 when Esther A. Howland, the heir to a greeting card fortune, put those commercial wheels in motion and made the first mass-produced Valentine’s Day card that the Valentine’s Day we now know and love (and by love I mean love/hate/love) began.

The cynics among us may want to relish this tidbit, the Greeting Card Association has an “Esther A. Howland Award for a Greeting Card Visionary” honoring those people who can find a new way to make us buy highly colored, usually sentimental paper products. It should be noted that 85% of the Valentine’s Day cards purchased are bought by women. This is something that doesn’t make me particularly proud of my gender.

The sales of Valentine’s Day cards run second only to sales of Christmas Cards, but Halloween cards are taking a strong upsurge, symbolizing to the most cynical of us that Valentine’s Day, like mummies, vampires, and other ghouls, always returns. No matter how much or how often we try to kill it. We might as well give in and embrace the monster, I suppose.

I am of the sort who, almost by default but certainly by nature believes that Valentine’s Day is, aside from the delightful blank check to eat as much chocolate as you like, kind of beside the point. We should, if we’re lucky enough to find it, celebrate love daily and in our own ways.

That said, there’s nothing wrong with opening a lovely bottle of AmaroneChampagne or romantic Super Tuscan and sharing it with a friend on Valentine’s Day. Or just having a glass yourself. After all, as Oscar Wilde wisely said, “To love oneself is the beginning of a lifelong romance.”

Cheers to that.


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