The History of Valentine's Day

  • 8 months   ago

For hundreds of years, people have thought of February 14th as a romantic day and used it to celebrate love. There are a variety of traditions all across the world, including Valentine’s gifts, cards and chocolate - but they all stem back to people showing their love. So how did Valentine’s Day come to be?

Saint Valentine

The origins of Valentine’s Day begin thousands of years ago, during the third century. There were several saints by the name of Valentine, but there was one who inspired two legends, St.Valentine of Rome. The first legend was Emperor Claudius II forbade soldiers from getting married as he thought single men would fight better. St. Valentine disagreed with this and performed marriages in secret. He was found out and put to death. The other story is that he helped Christians escape from Rome. He was jailed but fell in love with the jailer's daughter. The final letter before his execution was signed ‘From Your Valentine.’

Pick the Date

At the end of the fifth century, Pope Gelasius declared February 14 St. Valentine’s Day. Some people argue this was to put an end to the pagan fertility festival of Lupercalia, which took place on February 15th. Others believe the overlap between the days is not significant. It wasn’t until centuries later where Valentine’s Day began to be associated with romance. Most historians will point to Geoffrey Chaucer’s poem "Parliament of Fowls.” This prose includes the line (in modern spelling) ‘For this was on Saint Valentine’s day / When every bird came there to choose his mate.’ Though some argue he could have been referring to St Valentine of Genoa, a feast in May. 

First Greetings

Though the earliest romantic origins of Valentine’s Day are hard to pinpoint exactly, we can see during the 15th century in France, it became an annual tradition to celebrate love on February 14th. There were banquets with singing and dancing. Plus there was the earliest Valentine’s greeting on paper. In 1415, Duke of Orleans, a prisoner in the Tower of London, wrote to his wife. Roughly translated he wrote, “I am already sick of love, my very gentle Valentine.” This letter is still in the British Library. 



Fast-forward further to the 18th century where the first Valentine’s Day cards were sent. People would make them by hand. They included traditional symbols of love. Flowers, hearts, and birds. Some tried their hand at writing poetry or took inspiration from literature. This was the beginning of the day as we know it today: sending cards and tokens of love. 

From fertility festivals to alleged secret marriages, it’s fascinating to see how far Valentine’s Day has come along since its origins. What are some romantic traditions that you like?