When you think of Valentine’s Day you often think of red roses, little (or if you’re really lucky- big!) boxes of chocolates and some cute cuddly stuffed animal decorated with obligatory hearts. But how did this tradition really come to be? I was curious to learn how this holiday came about and see how it has evolved through the ages.
The Legend of St. Valentine
This over the top romantic holiday actually derived from a much darker and slightly controversial past. History tells us, there is controversy over whom our holiday actually derived from. There was not one lovely saint, but three named Valentine (Or Valentinus), that we could owe our traditions to. All three men were martyred. One Valentine was a priest in the 3rd century in Rome. The Emperor believed that single men made better soldiers, so he had outlawed marriage. Valentine married lovers in secret. After being discovered, this real life cupid was sentenced to death. Valentine number two in question was a Saint Valentine of Terni, a bishop who also fell to the same fate by the very same emperor, Claudis II.
Still, others say that there was another Valentine. This Valentine attempted to help Christians escape from Roman prisons. It was here that our romantic met a young girl, said to be the jailor’s daughter, whom he fell in love with. Just before his death he wrote her a letter signed “From your Valentine”. Was this letter quite possibly the very first Valentine? This legend became quite popular in the Middle Ages in England and France. St. Valentine became one of the most popular saints to be celebrated during this time.
Love is in the Air
Valentine’s Day might have come about more from a means of distraction than from highlighting any of these tales. The church identified Feb 14th as a day for lovers possibly as a way to put an end to a Pagan fertility ritual. A ritual that occurred around the same time of year. The names of the men and women were put into an urn and drawn in pairs at random. The names produced would then live together for a year in hopes of producing offspring.
Through the Ages
A large feast and exchanges of love messages and gifts between lovers used to mark Valentine’s Day. This tradition sprang up during the Middle Ages, at a time where chivalry and courting took place. Large scale production of greeting cards started as early as the mid 19th century. Entrepreneurs started creating Valentine cards in large scale which has since escalated and continued to today.
How Will You Celebrate?
So although the origins are a bit dark and murky, the romantic tradition remains. Does the history make you view our holiday any differently? How will you choose to celebrate this year? No matter if you celebrate with heart shaped candies or a hand-written love note, be sure to embrace your loved ones and tell them how you feel!
1.”History of Valentine’s Day.” History, 29 August 2019. https://www.history.com/topics/valentines-day/history-of-valentines-day-2. Accessed 8 February, 2020.
2. “Valentine’s Day History.” Infoplease, 28 February 2017. https://www.infoplease.com/calendar-holidays/major-holidays/valentines-day-history. Accessed 8 February, 2020.