Origins of Valentine’s Day
By: Rebecca Waddle
The origins of Valentine’s Day vary, but the tales consistently report that is was started by a man named Valentine (or a variation of that name). There is a lot of mystery surrounding the origins of the day of love, which is now celebrated around the world. Multiple legends state that “Valentine” belonged to different religious groups, which further shows how much a story can differ from source to source. However, most of what we know about our modern Valentine holiday is based on Roman Catholic beliefs and European Pagan legends.
Roman Catholic accounts indicate that the tradition of Valentine’s Day began sometime around 300 A.D. The story mainly focuses on the Feast of Lupercalia, a Roman holiday where men were said to sacrifice animals and playfully smack women during a race to encourage fertility, ending the celebration with a great feast, shared among neighbors. This Roman holiday was used to promote strong family ties and to participate in a “spring cleansing”. However, in later years, Pope Gelasius I noted how frivolous the ritual was. He decided to change the holiday to a more saintly celebration, creating “Valentine’s Day” to be celebrated on February 14th.
While some believe Valentine’s Day to have Catholic origins, there is still controversy over the true foundation. In another Christian story, St. Valentine was a Catholic priest who, in 270 A.D., angered the Roman Emperor, Claudius II, because he disobeyed the law. At the time, the emperor prohibited marriage for young men because he wanted them to focus on their military obligations, not finding love. According to the story, St. Valentine, a romantic at heart, continued performing marriage ceremonies in secret. Sadly, St. Valentine was apprehended by Roman soldiers and executed. Other accounts tell the tale of how St. Valentine fell in love with the daughter of the man who had jailed him. Before his execution, Valentine sent her a letter, which was signed with the now-famous line: “from your Valentine.” Further, still more stories tell about how St. Valentine, focused more on Christian love rather than passionate love, was eventually martyred because he refused to renounce his religion.
Some might ask: how did this story grow to other countries and the United States? Well, literary geniuses, such as Geoffrey Chaucer and Shakespeare, romanticized the holiday in their stories and plays. Following these references, handmade notes and letters were traded in Europe, which created the tradition that the holiday itself was a time for couples celebrate their relationship. The cards that were shared were typically made of lace, ribbons, and feature cupids and hearts. Once common in England, the tradition began to spread to the United States, including the American colonies. From there, the rest is history!
Currently, Valentine's Day is the 2nd most celebrated holiday in the world, with Christmas being the first. The holiday has created big-business for many companies because of how much money is spent on loved ones: “According to the Greeting Card Association, 25% of all cards sent each year are valentines.” (Infoplease.com). Some have speculated that Valentine’s Day has only remained such a popular holiday because of the money it brings to companies worldwide. Yet, some sociologists have said the holiday is harmful to mental health and that it can lower self-esteem. However, giving it up altogether would put many businesses out of business and take away a day for couples to spend celebrating each other.
It is common to send Valentine cards to friends, family, and romantic partners of every age, regardless of gender or social class. Join in on the fun and have a great Valentine’s day!!