History of Valentine’s Day


By Lila Gibson

Every year on February 14th  people all around the world exchange chocolates, flowers, and gifts in the name of St.Valentine. However, the actual history and the story of its patron saint are shrouded in mystery and not much is known about the origin of the holiday. The Catholic Church recognizes at least three different saints who had been martyred, named Valentine or Valentinus. One legend states that Valentine was a priest who worked during the third century of Rome. When the current Emperor, Emperor Claudius 11, decided that single men made better soldiers than those with wives and families, he outlawed marriage for young men. Valentine, highly disagreeing with this new law, defied Claudius and continued to perform marriages for young couples. When Valentine was discovered, Claudius ordered him to be killed.

Other stories say that Valentine may have been put to death when he attempted to help Christians escape harsh Roman prisons, where they were tortured. According to a legend, Valentine, who was imprisoned, actually sent the first “valentine” greeting to a woman he had fallen in love with- possibly his jailors daughter who visited him when he was locked away. Before his death it is said that he wrote her a letter signed “From your Valentine”, an expression that we still use today. Although the truth behind Valentine is still unknown, all the stories describe him as a sympathetic, heroic, and romantic figure. By the Middle Ages, Valentine was a very popular saint in England and France.

While most believe that Valentine’s Day is celebrated in the middle of February to honor Valentine’s death, other people claim that the Christian Church decided to have the holiday in the middle of February in an effort to “Christianize” the pagan celebration of Lupercalia. Lupercalia is an ancient Roman festival of purification and fertility, celebrated on February 15. Lupercalia survived the beginning of Christianity but was outlawed as it was deemed “un-Christian” at the end of the 5th century when Pope Gelasius declared February 14th St.Valentine’s day. It wasn’t until a while later that the day was associated with romance and love. In the Middle Ages it was believed in England and France that February 14th was the beginning of bird’s mating season, which contributed to the idea that Valentine’s Day should be a day of romance.

Valentines Greetings were used in the Middle Ages, but written Valentine’s didn’t show up until after 1400. The oldest valentine was traced back to 1415, a poem written by Charles, Duke of Orleans, to his wife while he was imprisoned in the Tower of London. Many years later it is concluded that King Henry V hired John Lydgate, a professional writer, to compose a valentine note to Catherine of Valois.

Americans probably started exchanging homemade valentines in the early 1700’s. In the 1840’s, Esther A. Howland started selling the first massed-produced valentines in America. Esther made intricate creations with ribbons, red lace, and colorful pictures known as “scrap.” Today an estimated 1 billion Valentine’s Day cards are sent, according to the Greeting Card Association, making Valentine’s Day the second largest card-sending holiday of the year.

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