Origins and History of Valentine’s Day
Valentine’s Day, celebrated each February 14, has long been the date dedicated to lovers celebrating their relationships and giving each other red heart-shaped chocolate boxes and adorable stuffed animals. But when and why did those traditions start?
Who was Saint Valentine?
The biography of the man who gave his name to Valentine’s Day is more a matter of inference than documented history. Various sources give different versions of St. Valentine’s life and martyrdom.
One legend depicts Valentine as a 3rd-century Christian priest who defied Roman Emperor Claudius II by performing marriages according to church sacraments. The pagan emperor had outlawed marriage for young men because he believed single men made better soldiers. Despite forcing Valentine to pretend to renounce Christianity and having him beaten with clubs, Claudius was unable to keep Valentine from carrying out his ministry. Claudius eventually ordered his men to behead Valentine.
Another story maintains that the saint sent the very first valentine greeting. Imprisoned himself and awaiting execution for trying to free fellow Christians from Roman jails, Valentine signed a letter to the jailer’s daughter with “From your Valentine.”
While differing on details, all legends portray Valentine as a good man who had a heart of gold and sympathized with sufferers. He was the original romantic.
Why February 14?
The Roman Catholic Church celebrates February 14 as St. Valentine’s feast day, recognizing him as the patron saint of love, young people and strong marriages. Depending on which account you read, the date marks the anniversary of either Valentine’s death or burial.
More modern scholarship indicates the date may have been chosen to counteract the February 15 celebration of a pagan fertility festival called Lupercalia. At the end of that celebration, each bachelor picked the name of a young single woman out of a jar, winning the right to claim the woman as his “chosen” for the next year. According to legend, the pairing often led to marriage, making Lupercalia not quite a modern romantic comedy, but romantic enough for ancient Rome.
Couples in the U.S., Mexico, Canada, Great Britain, France, Australia and several countries in Asia and Eastern Europe celebrate Valentine’s Day. Recent estimates suggest that 1 billion Valentine’s Day cards are sent each year. While that’s a whole lotta lovin’, cards are just the beginning. These days, people present their valentines with flowers, candy, stuffed animals, jewelry, fragrances, spa treatments and electronics.
Heart designs and the colors pink and red are now featured heavily on everything from kitchen accessories and intimate apparel to linens. Even kids can get in on the Valentine’s Day fun with limited-edition dolls like a pink musical sock monkey.
Those unsure what to get their special someone increasingly opt for Valentine’s Day gift cards.