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Floom looks into the history of Valentine's Day, from its origins in Ancient Rome (involving spanking for fertility), to its modern incarnation as a lavish, materialistic day driven by marketing and commercialism.
There is some romance in there too, we promise…
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Ancient Rome, pre- Christian era
Lupercalia, a pagan fertility festival, was celebrated in ancient Rome from the 13-15 February, and is the earliest known origin for why love is exalted on the 14th February. Some studies claim that during this Lupercalia, men would strip naked and whip the bottoms of young women in order to improve their fertility. Studies are yet to show that this had any significant effect on fertility, perhaps unsurprisingly.
Pope Gelasius declared February 14th to be St. Valentine’s Day. Maybe he was jealous of Lupercalia, which was still very popular, or maybe he just wanted a feast. The jury’s still out on this one.
Skipping forward a century, our first personal note of romance on the day occurs. Imprisoned in the Tower of London following capture at the Battle of Agincourt, Charles, Duke of Orleans, writes the first recorded Valentine’s note to his love. Immortalised in history, congratulations Charles.
You really thought he wouldn’t get a mention? William Shakespeare, sure enough, brings the day to the general public’s attention in Hamlet:
‘To-morrow is Saint-Valentine’s day, / All in the morning betime, / And I a maid at your window, / To be your Valentine.’
Writing messages of love and adoration becomes commonplace in England, with most cards made from lace and paper. By the 19th century, they have become so popular that factories are now churning them out in mass. Not quite what you had in mind was happening during the industrial revolution, was it?
By now the day is inescapable, and the contemporary Valentine’s Day is born - spending extravagant amounts of money on chocolate, cards, holidays and diamonds.
Valentine’s Day history, as the day generates an estimated £9.2 billion in retail sales in the United Kingdom. Quite hard to comprehend in all honesty.
1 billion Valentine’s Day cards are estimated to have been sent worldwide, placing the day only behind Christmas in the card sales list. What an accolade.
Valentine's Day generates an estimated $14.7 billion (£9.2 billion) in retail sales in the United States.
An estimated 1 billion St Valentine's Day cards will be sent worldwide this year, making it the second most card-heavy celebration after Christmas. Pope Gelasius is no doubt delighted at such an accolade.
So there you have it, a (sort of) comprehensive guide to the history of Valentine’s Day. What a journey it’s been. We’ve got a wonderful selection of flowers for the day, thanks to our local independent florists - so head over there now and check them out.