Each year in many places around the world, a day of love is celebrated. Cards are sent out, candy and flowers given, and elaborate dates are planned. While Valentine’s Day is extremely well known and commercial now, the exact history of the day is a bit murkier.
There are a few different stories about how the day was started. One of the most common is that Valentine was a priest in the third century who defied the current roman emperor and married young couples. The emperor, Claudius II, had outlawed marriage for young men under the idea that single men would make better soldiers than those with wives and children.
Valentine refused to comply with the outlaw and married young couples in secret. When he was found out, Valentine was arrested and sentenced to death. Legend also has it that during his time in jail, Valentine fell in love with a jailer’s daughter and left her a farewell note that was signed “from your Valentine”. He eventually died on February 14, some time around 270 BCE.
But this Valentine is not the only recognized St. Valentine who is said to have died on February 14th. The Catholic Church, for example, apparently recognizes three separate saints that are all named Valentine or Valentinus, who were all martyrs for their faith. And while many believe that St. Valentine’s Day is celebrated each year on February 14th because it was the day St. Valentine died, another theory is that the Church wanted to Christianize a pagan fertility festival called Lupercalia.
Lupercalia was celebrated each year on February 15th and was dedicated to the Roman god of agriculture, Faunus. During the festival, an order of Roman priests called the Luperci would gather at a scared cave and sacrifice a goat and a dog. The goat sacrifice was for fertility and the dog sacrifice was for purification. After the sacrifices, the priests would then stripe the goat’s hide, dip it in the blood, and go back to the city. There, they would slap the women and crop fields with the bloodied goat hide, as it was believed that doing so would make both the women and fields more fertile in the coming year.
While the celebrations of Valentine’s day are centuries old, the cards we might see today are relatively new. The oldest known written valentine that still exists comes from Charles, Duke of Orleans, who wrote a poem to his wife while imprisoned in the Tower of London in 1415. But, it wasn’t until 1840 that commercial valentine’s day cards were produced. Esther Howland is said to be the first to produce commercial American valentines and while she had what would now be $130,700 in business in the first year alone, there are now over one billion valentine cards sent out each year.
There is so much more folklore and history that goes into today’s celebration. But for now, that is the story of Valentine’s Day.
Sources and to learn more
- How Valentine’s Day Works – How Stuff Works
- The Legends and Lore of Valentine’s Day – The Farmer’s Almanac
- This Day in History: St. Valentine beheaded – History
- History of Valentine’s Day – History
- Love’s Labour’s Found: An Intimate Archaeology of the Love-Lock – Ceri Houlbrook, Inner Lives Blog
- An Exploration Into the Darker Side of Valentine’s Day – Alexandra Malmed, Vogue