Valentines Day: The Origin


Epic art by Liz H.

Valentine’s day is known to be a day for love, but how did this day come to be how its known as today? Well, I’ll tell you in this article.

What we know

‘Valentine’s Day’ is observed on February 14, with many people celebrating with candy, flowers, balloons, and plenty of other things to show love to the people they love.

The Catholic Church recognizes three different saints named Valentine or Valentinus, all of whom were martyred. One legend states that Valentine was a priest who had served during the third century in Rome. When Emperor Claudius II decided that single men made better soldiers than one with families or wives, and because of that he decided to outlaw marriage for young men. Valentine, realizing the injustice of the decision, defied Claudius and continued to do marriages for young lovers in secret. When Valentine’s actions had been discovered, however, Claudius ordered that he be put to death. Still, others had insisted that it was Saint Valentine of Terni, a bishop, who was the true namesake of the holiday. He too was beheaded by Claudius II outside of Rome.

Other stories state that Valentine might have been killed for attempting to help Christians escape harsh Roman prisons. According to one legend, an imprisoned Valentine actually sent the first “valentine” greeting himself after falling in love with a young woman that was possibly his jailor’s daughter. Before his death, he allegedly wrote her a letter that was signed “From your Valentine,” an expression that is still used currently. Although the truth behind these Valentine’s legends is murky, the stories all emphasize his appeal as a sympathetic, heroic, and romantic figure. By the Middle Ages, maybe because of this reputation he had, Valentine would become one of the most popular saints in England and France.

The dark side of how Valentine’s day started

Its believe that Valentine’s Day is celebrated in the middle of February, from the 13th to the 15th to celebrate the anniversary of Valentine’s death or burial, which likely occurred around A.D. 270. Celebrated at the ides of February, or February 15, Lupercalia was a fertility festival dedicated to Faunus, the Roman god of agriculture, as well as to the Roman founders, Romulus and Remus. 

This festival was violent. The festival would begin with members of the Luperci, which is an order of Roman priests. These priests would gather at a sacred cave where the infants, Romulus and Remus, the founders of Rome, were believed to have been cared for by a she-wolf or ‘lupa’.

These priests would sacrifice both a goat for fertility and a dog for purity. They would strip the goats’ hide into strips and then dip the hide into sacrificial blood. After this happened, they would head into the streets where young women would line up, ready to be slapped by the hides. Women believed that it would make them fertile for the coming year.

Later that same day, according to legend, all of the young women would put their names in a big urn. Then, young men would take names from the urn. These couples would either last for the duration of the festival, or they would get married.

Valentines Days Meaning

Lupercalia had survived the initial rise of Christianity but ended up being outlawed as it was deemed to be “un-Christian” at the end of the 5th century, when Pope Galsius declared that February 14th would be St. Valentines Day. Although, it wasn’t until much later that the day would become associated with love. It was commonly believed in France and England during the middle ages that February 14th was the beginning of birds’ mating season. That added to the idea that Valentine’s Day should be a day for love. 

Valentine’s greetings were popular as far back as the Middle Ages, although, written Valentines didn’t start to appear until after 1400. The oldest known written valentine’s poem that still exists today was written in 1415 by Charles, Duke of Orleans. The poem was written to his wife while he was imprisoned in the Tower of London. 

Who is Cupid?

Often, Cupid is portrayed as a naked cherub launching arrows of love at unsuspecting lovers. But Roman God Cupid has his roots in Greek mythology as the Greek god of love, Eros.

According to Greek Archaic poets, Eros was a handsome immortal who played with the emotions of Gods and men. It wasn’t until the Hellenistic period that he began to be portrayed as the mischievous, chubby child he’d become on Valentine’s Day cards.

The Typical Valentine’s Day Greetings and Gifts

Other than Valentine’s day being celebrated here in the U.S., it’s also celebrated in Canada, Mexico, the United Kingdom, France, and Australia. 

In Great Britain, Valentine’s Day began to be popularly celebrated around the 17th century. By the middle of the 18th, friends and lovers of all social classes commonly exchanged small tokens of affection or handwritten notes. But by 1900, printed cards started taking over handwritten ones because of the improvements done to printing technology. Ready-made cards were a much easier way for people to express their emotions and feelings in a time when direct expression of one’s emotions and feelings was discouraged. Cheaper postage rates were also contributing to the increased popularity of sending Valentine’s Day greetings.

On the other hand, Americans probably started to exchange hand-made valentines in the early 1700s. In the 1840s, Esther A. Howland started selling the first mass-produced valentines in America. Howland, also known as the “Mother of the Valentine,” made elaborate creations with real lace, ribbons, and colorful pictures known as scrap. Today, according to Hallmark, an estimated 145 million Valentine’s Day cards are sent each year, making Valentine’s Day the second largest card-sending holiday of the year.

How Valentines is Currently Celebrated

Now, people often celebrate Valentine’s Day by giving different types of gifts to family, friends, and other loved ones. Mostly cards, flowers, and chocolates are gifted, but other things are also given to loved ones during Valentine’s Day.