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Exploring the origins of Valentine’s Day

The following piece was submitted by Carol Taylor, education coordinator at the Northport Historical Society.

One of the most popular and commercially lucrative holidays in the United States is Valentine’s Day. It’s been in our social consciousness for decades. Mere days after Christmas, aisles of stores are crammed with candy boxes, cards and roses – a sea of red. But, how did we get here?

There are many theories surrounding the origin of Valentine’s Day, here are just a few:

  • Early Pagans celebrated the festival Lupercalia (6th century BC,) where people pranced nude, spontaneously grabbed mates and sacrificed animals. Luckily it was banned in the 5th century!

  • In the Middle Ages, on “Choose Your Romantic Partner Day,” as the name implies, people chose random “partners.” It must have been a popular event!

  • The martyred Bishop Valentine of Terni (273 AD) may have also been the inspiration for Valentine’s Day. He lost his life because he defied authority and married couples to prevent the groom’s military conscription.

  • It was rumored that Queen Victoria had an affair with her footman. The two reportedly exchanged love letters – to the Victorians, love was a covert enterprise.

This February the Northport Historical Society welcomes you to take a deeper look at the history of Valentine’s Day with three new events:

My Victorian Valentine Pop-up Exhibit: This limited run exhibit will explore the tenets of Valentine’s Day and showcase a collection of vintage Valentine’s cards (before Hallmark) as well as feature a demonstration of the evolution of lingerie from utilitarian necessity to an item of seduction! The pop-up exhibit opens February 1.

A Very Victorian Valentine’s Day (February 2, 7-9pm): You are cordially invited to the Museum after hours to hear the alluring history of Valentine's Day, told through wine and chocolate! You'll take a journey from the early beginnings of the holiday, all the way to modern times, while learning (and sampling) an array of wine and chocolate pairings. Ages 21+ only.

Be My Valentine (February 12, 1-3pm): During this fun-filled afternoon, kids will learn about Valentine's Day while making something for their Valentine at three crafting stations - Create your own Victorian Valentine's Day Card, Yo-Yo Decorating Station (love has its ups and downs), plus A Hot Chocolate Taste Testing Station. All Ages Welcome!

For more information and to register for events, see the Northport Historical Society’s events page. Happy Valentine’s Day!