The History of Valentine’s Day

Learn the extensive history behind the famed Valentine's day

| February 22, 2017

Oh, love. Oh, Valentine’s Day. There’s something about this Hallmark holiday that sends lovers all over the world in a frenzy. The cards, the flowers, the jewelry, the dinner, but who really knows the history of this beloved holiday?

Starting in Ancient Rome around approximately the 1st century, the fertility festival called Lupercalia, named for the saint Lupercus, was held on every Feb. 15. This pagan holiday was dedicated to the Roman god of agriculture Faunus and the Roman founders Romulus and Remus. Every festival began with the order of Roman priests called the Luperci gathering at a sacred cave where the infants Romulus and Remus were being cared for by a she-wolf. The Luperci would sacrifice a goat and a dog – the goat for fertility and the dog for purification – and slap the women and crop fields with blood soaked goat hide. Roman women welcomed this because it was a belief that they would then become more fertile in the upcoming year. Afterwards, all the young women would put their names in an urn for the city’s bachelors to choose from. Whichever name was chosen, the bachelor and the woman would be paired for a year with the match usually ending in marriage.

Photo from Wikimedia Commons

Around A.D. 270, Pope Gelasius put a stop to this “un-Christian” holiday. It is believed the Christian Saint Valentine was killed around this time, and to honor him, Pope Gelasius placed his commemoration feast in the middle of February to “Christianize” Lupercalia. Despite the Pope declaring February 14 as St. Valentine’s Day, no one really knows who St. Valentine was. There’s one theory that he was a Christian cleric in 3rd Century Rome who was sentenced to death for performing illegal marriages in secret. At that time, Roman Emperor Claudius II banned marriage for young men because he believed single men made better soldiers. In another theory, it’s said Valentine was jailed for helping Christians escape Roman prisons. During his confinement, he fell in love with a young girl (said to be the jailer’s daughter) and sent her letters signed: “From your Valentine.”

The signature “From your Valentine” was penned in the year 270 and is still in use today, showing love truly does travel distances. After Valentine’s death, the next Valentine known to be sent was in the year 1415 by Charles, Duke of Orleans. Charles sent his wife a poem he wrote while he was imprisoned in the Tower of London. Valentine’s today are simple notes of love and appreciation, but the first Valentines were more tragic, being sent to dearly loved wives by men awaiting their deaths. King Henry V was one of the first documented Valentines to send a note to his wife, Catherine of Valois, just to celebrate the holiday, thus starting the tradition of sending your loved ones a simple Valentine note.

As time went on, it was believed in France and England that February 14 was the beginning of birds’ mating season, which turned into the idea the day should be for romance. Lovers all over these two countries followed in King Henry V’s footsteps to send their lovers sweet notes and shower them with affection. In 1840, the United States picked up the holiday and started the mass-production of Valentine’s cards. Like most other things in the U.S., Valentine’s day was turned into an enterprise that still reigns supreme today.

Every year, 1 billion Valentine’s cards are sent, 35 million heart shaped boxes of chocolate are sold, 220 million roses are produced, $20 billion is spent on Valentine’s and $4 billion is spent on jewelry. This loved-up holiday is more of a pick-pocket franchise, but love never fails to be the defining motivation for it all. An average 6 million couples get engaged on Valentine’s Day, showing it truly is the day of love. Although this holiday has a dark and sinister past, love prevails through it all, so eat your heart-shaped chocolates and tell your person you love them. Just don’t forget to sign your card “From your Valentine” to make St. Valentine proud.

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