We all know Valentine’s Day, the holiday in which we send valentines cards, flowers, and candy to loved ones. But where and when did this tradition come from? The origin of Valentine’s Day may surprise you.
The Catholic Church has at least three saints by the name of Valentine or Valentinus, so his identity is shrouded in mystery. One legend says that St. Valentine was a priest during the third century in Rome. Emperor Claudius II declared that unmarried men made better soldiers, so he prevented men from getting married. Valentine found this rule unfair and married couples in secret. When he was discovered, Claudius put St. Valentine to death. Another legend says that St. Valentine was killed for trying to help Christians escape Roman prisons, where they were heavily beaten and tortured. When St. Valentine was imprisoned, he might have sent the first valentine, possibly to the jailer’s daughter.
St. Valentine’s Day
The date of St. Valentine’s Day, February 14th, may have been decided to honor St. Valentine’s death or burial that probably happened around 270 A.D. It also may have been decided by the Catholic Church to put it in the middle of February in order to “Christianize” the holiday of Lupercalia. Lupercalia was a fertility celebration dedicated to Faunus, the Roman god of farming and agriculture as well as the founders of Rome, Romulus and Remus. Members of the Lupercalia, an order of Roman priests, would gather at the cave where Romulus and Remus, the founders of Rome, were supposedly cared for by lupa or she-wolf. During the festival, a goat would be sacrificed for fertility and a dog for purification. Later in the day, young woman in the city would put their names in a large urn. The men of the city who were not married would draw a name from the urn and would be paired with the chosen woman for the year.
The festival of Lupercalia was eventually banned when Pope Gelasius declared the holiday “un-Christian” and changed the name to what we know it as today, St. Valentine’s Day. During the Middle Ages, birds’ mating season in France and England was commonly believed to start on February 14th, so this associated the idea of love with St. Valentine’s Day. Valentine greetings were common all the way back to the Middle Ages, but written Valentines didn’t exist until after 1400 A.D. A poem written in 1415 by Charles, Duke of Orleans is the oldest known valentine in existence.
Valentine’s Day started out as the Festival of Lupercalia and has evolved into what we celebrate today. Once a celebration of Faunus, the Roman god of agriculture and fertility, is now a holiday dedicated to romance. Valentine’s Day is recognized around the world and each culture has its own way of celebrating it. In the U.S, we celebrate the day with cards, flowers, and chocolate. Thanks to St. Valentine, we dedicate one special day to love and romance that the entire world celebrates.
Sources: Smithsonian.com, Realsimple.com, lifehacker.com