The History of Valentine's Day

We found this article written by Meggen and Peter Taylor, and found the origins of Valentine's Day to be very colorful.  Enjoy!

  • Meggen and Peter TaylorFounders of and lovers of all things historic, vintage, classic, retro and throwback.


Since the holiday of love is fast approaching we thought it fitting to explore the historical roots of Valentine's Day. Personally, I am a bit torn about how I feel about the holiday itself. Part of me (the Libra side) is in love with love so any day that celebrates "love" is a winner in my book. However, the cynical side of me thinks it is a trumped up faux-holiday created to have us all spend money. I guess this makes me no different then any other conflicted individual out there. However, I digress.

So, I decided to ask a few close friends to get some additional perspective on what they thought about the holiday and where they thought the origin of this day came from. Not surprisingly, a few of my male friends sided with my cynical side thinking that the day was a big scheme started by the flower and jewelry industries to guilt them into buying gifts for their significant others. While another male friend suggested that the day should entitle him to some acts that were a bit too risqué to share in this forum--nonetheless, entertaining to listen to. The few women that I asked offered a mixed bag of responses ranging from the romantic to the apathetic. The consensus among the friends that I spoke with was that they had no idea how this holiday came into existence.


As it turns out, there is quite a history behind Valentine's Day and a lot of it actually quite dark for it to be known today as such happy, loving day. And like many other subject matters, some of the available information about this holiday has differing points of view leaving the non-historian like myself a bit confused. What I could determine is that there were at least 3 Christian saints known as Valentine.

Valentine's Day has roots in the ancient Roman festival of Lupercalia, a fertility celebration that occurred annually from February 13th to February 15th that was celebrated as far back as 44 BC (some historians say it goes back even further) where shepherds thought the celebration brought health and fertility to their sheep and cows. These ceremonies were apparently filled with animal sacrifices and a whole lot of nudity. Priests would lead the sacrifices of goats and young dogs due to the belief that these species had strong sexual instincts. Hmm, dogs and goats equal sexuality? Not surprisingly, the sacrifices were followed by copious amounts of wine. Once the libations kicked in full throttle the men would strip down dressing themselves in the animal skins of the recently sacrificed animals and would run around town striking women they wanted to pair up with with animal flesh. If the pairing was amenable to both parties the priest would marry the couple. I must say that I am glad that times have changed.

At some point, Lupercalia fell out of favor with the upper classes of society and became an event that the lower classes celebrated. Towards the end of the fifth century, Pope Gelasius I ended up banning the festival and established what he perceived a more Christian holiday on February 14th to celebrate the patron Saint Valentine. Throughout history there were several saints that went by the name Valentine, but it is believed that the patron saint that Gelasius created the holiday for was a combination of several saints. One of the Valentine saints lived in the third century who was apparently beheaded by Emperor Claudius, who was convinced that this particular Valentine was illegally marrying Christians. Another Valentine was killed in the Roman province of Africa because he would not give up being a Christian in the 4th century. The third Valentine also met his death by beheading during the 3rd century. This new celebration that Gelasius created did not really catch on until the 14th century. Some historians do not believe that Lupercalia has anything to do with what we now know as Valentines Day.


Enter Geoffrey Chaucer, the author of the Canterbury Tales, who some historians believe is the inventor of Valentine's Day while some believe that he just brought the concept to the masses and popularized it. Either way, it was Chaucer's poem, "Parliament of the Foules", that is thought to be the first written word tying both Valentine's Day and love together. It was Chaucer's verse, "For this was Saint Valentine's day, when every bird of every kind that men can imagine comes to this place to choose his mate" that leads some historians to fall into the category of seeing Chaucer as the creator of Valentine's Day.

It wasn't until the 18th century in Britain did the exchange of Valentine's Day notes become popular and the tradition quickly spread to the United States. In fact it was the entrepreneurial spirit of Esther A. Howland who received a Valentine herself and since her father owned a book and stationary store she was inspired to mass-produce Valentine's Day cards as a source of additional income.


In wrapping up my exploration of the history behind Valentine's Day the day itself has a past that is not quite like the way we celebrate in modern times and thank goodness. Heck, my male friend whose comments about what his significant other should be doing to and for him were not so far off the mark in terms of the history. Whether you celebrate the day with dinner, roses, jewelry or by simply doing nothing the history behind this holiday is fascinating nonetheless.

February 13, 2016 by Dawn employee
Mardi Gras in New Orleans

Mardi Gras in New Orleans

Mardi Gras History

The origins of Mardi Gras can be traced to medieval Europe, passing through Rome and Venice in the 17th and 18th centuries to the French House of the Bourbons. From here, the traditional revelry of "Boeuf Gras," or fatted calf, followed France to her colonies.

On March 2, 1699, French-Canadian explorer Jean Baptiste Le Moyne Sieur de Bienville arrived at a plot of ground 60 miles directly south of New Orleans, and named it "Pointe du Mardi Gras" when his men realized it was the eve of the festive holiday. Bienville also established "Fort Louis de la Louisiane" (which is now Mobile) in 1702. In 1703, the tiny settlement of Fort Louis de la Mobile celebrated America's very first Mardi Gras.

In 1704, Mobile established a secret society (Masque de la Mobile), similar to those that form our current Mardi Gras krewes. It lasted until 1709. In 1710, the "Boeuf Gras Society" was formed and paraded from 1711 through 1861. The procession was held with a huge bull's head pushed alone on wheels by 16 men.  Later, Rex would parade with an actual bull, draped in white and signaling the coming Lenten meat fast. This occurred on Fat Tuesday.

New Orleans was established in 1718 by Bienville. By the 1730s, Mardi Gras was celebrated openly in New Orleans, but not with the parades we know today. In the early 1740s, Louisiana's governor, the Marquis de Vaudreuil, established elegant society balls, which became the model for the New Orleans Mardi Gras balls of today.

The earliest reference to Mardi Gras "Carnival" appears in a 1781 report to the Spanish colonial governing body. That year, the Perseverance Benevolent & Mutual Aid Association was the first of hundreds of clubs and carnival organizations formed in New Orleans.

By the late 1830s, New Orleans held street processions of maskers with carriages and horseback riders to celebrate Mardi Gras. Dazzling gaslight torches, or "flambeaux," lit the way for the krewe's members and lent each event an exciting air of romance and festivity. In 1856, six young Mobile natives formed theMistick Krewe of Comus, invoking John Milton's hero Comus to represent their organization. Comus brought magic and mystery to New Orleans with dazzling floats (known as tableaux cars) and masked balls. Krewe members remained anonymous.

In 1870, Mardi Gras' second Krewe, the Twelfth Night Revelers, was formed. This is also the first recorded account of Mardi Gras "throws."

Newspapers began to announce Mardi Gras events in advance, and they even printed "Carnival Edition" lithographs of parades' fantastic float designs (after they rolled, of course - themes and floats were always carefully guarded before the procession). At first, these reproductions were small, and details could not be clearly seen. But beginning in 1886 with Proteus' parade "Visions of Other Worlds," these chromolithographs could be produced in full, saturated color, doing justice to the float and costume designs of Carlotta Bonnecase, Charles Briton and B.A. Wikstrom. Each of these designers' work was brought to life by talented Parisian paper-mache' artist Georges Soulie', who for 40 years was responsible for creating all of Carnival's floats and processional outfits.

1872 was the year that a group of businessmen invented a King of Carnival, Rex, to preside over the first daytime parade. To  honor the visiting Russian Grand Duke Alexis Romanoff, the businessmen introduced Romanoff's family colors of purple, green and gold as Carnival's official colors. Purple stands for justice; gold for power; and green for faith. This was also the Mardi Gras season that Carnival's improbable anthem, "If Ever I Cease to Love," was cemented, due in part to the Duke's fondness for the tune.

The following year, floats began to be constructed entirely in New Orleans instead of France, culminating with Comus' magnificent "The Missing Links to Darwin's Origin of Species," in which exotic paper-mache' animal costumes served as the basis for Comus to mock both Darwin's theory and local officials, including Governor Henry Warmoth. In 1875, Governor Warmoth signed the "Mardi Gras Act," making Fat Tuesday a legal holiday in Louisiana, which it still is.

Like Comus and the Twelfth Night Revelers, most Mardi Gras krewes today developed from private social clubs with restrictive membership policies. Since all of these parade organizations are completely funded by their members, New Orleanians call it the "Greatest Free Show on Earth!"

January 15, 2016 by Marita Crandle
Welcome to our new on-line Store

Welcome to our new on-line Store

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December 05, 2015 by Marita Crandle