You might have heard the saying, “Valentine’s Day is a holiday Hallmark made up to sell cards.” While it’s true that Hallmark helped popularize the holiday with their ready made cards, Valentine’s day actually dates back to the 1400s!
However, the origins of the holiday are very murky; the Catholic church has all least three different saints named Valentine.
One legend goes that one of the saints performed illegal marriages of young lovers. Another legend has it that the St. Valentine sent the original “valentine” to his jailer's daughter, who he had fallen in love with while in prison, signing it “From your Valentine.” These may just be romantic legends, but Valentine’s cards were popular even during the Middle Ages.
Chaucer and Shakespeare both wrote about Valentine’s Day in their works and may have been responsible for popularizing the holiday—though Chaucer spelled it seynt Volantynys day.
Americans began exchanging hand-made valentines in the 1700s, and in the mid-1800s Esther A. Howland began to sell mass produced valentines with paper lace, more than half a century before Hallmark started.
This is not to understate Hallmark’s influence on the holiday. Each year, they estimate that they sell 145 million Valentine's Day cards.
So this Valentine’s day, if you give a loved one a card, know that you’re participating in a tradition that’s over half a millennium old. So happy Seynt Volantynys day from your friends at Something Blue Journal!