The History of Valentines Day

As Valentine’s Day approaches, sweethearts here at SJC and all over are looking for that special token for the ones they love. Chocolate candy hearts, red roses, heart-shaped pendants and sentimental cards are among the most popular gifts. In fact, next to Christmas, Valentine’s Day is the biggest holiday for card sales. Annually, that adds up to about one billion Valentine cards! Given those numbers, it’s not surprising that many people are convinced that this holiday is manufactured by greeting card companies, candy makers, jewelers and florists. However, according to, the origin of the holiday is rooted in rituals, religion and unwavering love.

From where exactly did this tradition stem? There are many theories. Surprisingly, Valentine’s Day may have derived from an ancient Pagan fertility festival celebrated on February 15  (the Ides of February), called Lupercalia.The festival honored Roman founders and twin brothers — Romulus and Remus — as well as the Roman god of agriculture, Faunus. During the event, Roman priests would sacrifice goats and dogs to promote fertility and purification; the priests then cut the goat hides into strips, immersed them in blood and traveled with them throughout the region, softly grazing crops and young women along the way. A touch of a bloodied strip was considered to be a lucky sign that boosted a woman’s fertility for the upcoming year. Later in the day, the single women placed their names into an urn from where eligible bachelors would pick. The matching couples formed unions for that year; many courtships continued beyond the first year, and some even resulted in marriages.

Regardless of those successes, Lupercalia did not endure the test of time; the rise of Christianity motivated major changes. Toward the end of the 5th century, Pope Gelasius banned the Roman festival of Lupercalia, viewing it as “un-Christian.” At the same time, the Pope designated February 14 as St. Valentine’s Day. Some people believe that the Catholic Church chose the feast of St. Valentine’s Day to occur in the middle of February as a way to “Christianize the Pagan celebration of Lupercalia.” Still, others think that the holiday was formed as a tribute to the Christian saint, named Valentine, who died around 270 A.D.

So, who is St. Valentine? What is his tale? Where did he really come from? Questions like these are tricky to answer, since there are three separate saints named Valentine that the Catholic Church identifies. For that reason, it can be confusing as to which “Valentine” the holiday is named for. Nevertheless, there is one common thread between all the stories; each “Valentine” is presented as a brave figure, willing to sacrifice and stand up for justice in the name of love, all the while doing it in the most romantic of ways.

In one particular story, Valentine is described as a priest who lived in Rome during the 200s, a time when Emperor Claudius II ruled the land. Claudius, a militant leader, decided to ban wartime marriages of young males, feeling that a wife and family would interfere with a soldier’s performance. Valentine strongly opposed Claudius’ narrow-minded viewpoint and went against the emperor’s strict orders by continuing to marry couples in secret ceremonies. The price that Valentine paid for his disobedience was his life; when Claudius learned of his defiance, he had Valentine killed.

Another legend depicted Valentine as a hero who assisted fellow Christians in escaping the horrors (beatings and torture) of Roman prisons. Despite Valentine’s noble efforts, he was captured and ultimately found himself confined to a Roman prison to await execution. While there, he fell in love with a lovely young woman who routinely visited him; ironically, she was the daughter of his jailor. Nevertheless their dangerous, forbidden connection did not stop Valentine from expressing his everlasting affection for her. As the story goes, nearing his imminent death, Valentine composed a letter to his beloved, signing it — “From your Valentine.”

Later on, in the Middle Ages, verbal expressions of Valentine greetings became fashionable. However, it did take time for the tradition of exchanging handwritten cards to emerge; this occurred in the latter part of the era, happening sometime after 1400. The tradition of giving hand-made “Valentines” actually caught on with Americans around the early portion of the 1700s. Simultaneously, the customs of Valentine’s Day continued to develop throughout the world. Many countries have embraced Valentine’s Day: France, Mexico and Canada are just a few. Great Britain also started widely celebrating the holiday around the 1800s. Just a decade later, it was commonplace for friends and love interests all over the globe to routinely exchange handwritten letters and other Valentine’s keepsakes.

Eventually, there was a shift from giving homemade cards to buying store bought cards; this was largely due to the technological advances in printing and affordable postal rates at that time. Additionally, it was a way for someone to show heartfelt sentiments while living in a conservative age, when outward displays of emotion were deterred.

These days, society is more liberal; fortunately, people can freely choose to express themselves any way they like on Valentine’s Day. The sky’s the limit; so, go have fun, and have a Happy Valentine’s Day! ❤

By: Kim Wrighter


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