Skip to main content

The history of Valentine’s Day

February 8, 2019 11:36 am Updated: February 8, 2019 11:41 am


This week we celebrate Valentine’s Day, one of the oldest and most popular holidays observed all over this planet. From China to Finland, almost every country on Earth celebrates this holiday.

More than one billion Valentine’s Day cards will be sent worldwide, but how many of the senders or recipients actually know how this holiday came about?

The history of Valentine’s Day, legend says, originated during the third century in Rome. During this time, Emperor Claudius II decided that single men made better soldiers, so he outlawed marriage for young men. A young priest named Valentine was furious with this injustice and defied Claudius by continuing to perform marriages for young lovers in secret. Claudius eventually discovered Valentine’s actions and sentenced him to death. During his time in jail, Valentine fell in love with his jailer’s daughter, who visited him in prison. Before he was put to death, Valentine sent a letter to the girl and signed it, “From Your Valentine” — an expression we still use today.

Valentine was executed Feb. 14, 270 AD. Later, around 496 AD, Pope Gelasius declared Feb. 14 a day to honor Valentine, who by that time had become a saint.

The history of giving your loved one Valentine’s Day flowers comes from the old-fashioned custom of sending floral bouquets to pass on non-verbal messages. Introduced in the 18th century by Charles II of Sweden, each flower had a specific meaning attached to it, making it possible to have an entire conversation using only flowers.

Roses have always been associated with love and this year about 233 million roses will be produced, specifically for this holiday. That’s a lot of love!

Of course when demand is highest, prices rise accordingly. It is not hard to spend $75 or more for a dozen long-stemmed roses this week and up to $100 if they are delivered, but careful shopping can drop that number to around $20. Of course most of the roses that will be sold are grown in the southern hemisphere, particularly Columbia, Ecuador, Africa and Israel.

More than 70 percent of the roses sold in European supermarkets will be grown in Kenya, in a manner that has created a great deal of controversy. It seems that the large rose farmers are tapping a river for irrigation that is crucial for providing water for food production. We live in an odd world today, where seemingly innocuous purchases have international repercussions. The global economy offers instant access to all sorts of goods and services for those who can afford to be consumers, but we need to understand that this convenience comes with a price.

If we could only buy locally produced, greenhouse-grown roses, they would be far more expensive than the imports, but perhaps that is something we should consider. Globalism is not equally beneficial for all parties.

I hope that you provided some winter protection for your garden roses this winter. Grafted roses are usually only hardy to single-digit temperatures and this cold winter will surely take its toll on those not protected. A blanket of snow does offer some insulation, but mounding 6-8 inches of soil around the base, of the shrubs in December, is far more effective.

Roses that are not grafted, as are many of the shrub roses, are much hardier in general. Grafted roses are easily recognized by the swollen “knob” that is at the junction of the roots and stems. Roses that are growing on their own roots do not have this feature.

If you would like to purchase a hardy rose, that is locally sold, consider visiting a garden center and buying a potted up minirose. These pretty little plants can be transplanted outdoors in May and could last for years with proper care. I will leave you with poem that touches on the subject matter this week.

The rose is a rose,

And was always a rose.

But the theory now goes

That the apple’s a rose,

And the pear is, and so’s

The plum, I suppose.

The dear only knows

What will next prove a rose.

You, of course, are a rose —

But were always a rose.

- Robert Frost

Reach Bob Beyfuss at