While I typically end up celebrating Singles Awareness Day by myself each year, I have enough of a romantic side to appreciate the allure of Valentine’s Day, particularly after looking into the holiday’s history.
According to legend, Valentine’s Day’s namesake, St. Valentine, was a Catholic priest in third century Rome. The Roman law of the day required all young men to serve in the Roman army for a number of years before they could marry— the Roman emperors argued that unwed men made better soldiers—but St. Valentine, who believed the law was an injustice, was known for marrying young lovers in secret. When Emperor Claudius II learned of Valentine’s actions, he ordered the priest’s execution. Valentine became a martyr for the cause of love and he quickly became one of the most popular saints. By the Middle Ages, thousands in England in France already celebrated his namesake holiday.
Valentine’s Day replaced an older, Roman tradition called Lupercalia, a pagan fertility festival dedicated to the goddess of Agriculture and the Roman founders, Romulus and Remus. During the festival, all the single women in a community would place their name in a large urn, and later in the day the eligible bachelors would draw the name of the girl they would court for the next year.
The celebration of Valentine’s Day as we would recognize it— with Valentine’s greeting cards, chocolates and gifts for loved ones—probably dates back to the 1840s. In Tooele, though, the earliest mention I could find of the holiday dates back to 1899.
Young singles in the county had a variety of entertainment choices for Valentine’s that year. At least two communities threw Valentine’s dances—one in Tooele City itself and the other in Grantsville. In Grantsville, prizes were awarded to the individual who garnered the most Valentines, an award that in 1899 went to John Johnson and Thomas Flinders, young men who had never actually entered the card collecting competition.
Tooele’s dance, which was held on the Droubay family’s property, was more low-key, but a “Valentine’s Post” was available for those who wished to send letters as secret admirers.
The town of Vernon also planned to recognize Valentine’s that year, but instead of a dance, the community observed the holiday with a Valentine’s exchange at the community store. The Tooele Transcript predicted that the shopkeeper would see an uptick in young patrons that month.
In addition to increasing chocolate sales, a Tooele poet predicted that all the holiday excitement would attract mythological attention.
“Tuesday is Valentine’s Day— the day that makes so many hearts to flutter,” the poet wrote. “The reason that Cupid shoots upon that day, because his targets are as soft as butter.”