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February 14, 2020

The Uncanny History of Valentine’s Day

a woman wearing a dress holding a heart shaped item
Today, Valentine’s Day is associated with romance, but the origin of the holiday is not. Here is the lesser-known history of Valentine’s Day.

How did Valentine’s Day start?

Valentine’s Day was established as a holiday on the ancient Roman calendar before St Valentine was even born. That holiday called Lupercalia (which may be the origin of Valentine’s Day) celebrated fertility. It may have included a ritual in which men and women were paired off by choosing names from a jar. In Ancient Greece, people observed the holiday as a celebration for the marriage of the god, Zeus, and the goddess, Hera. This holiday may have influenced why we celebrate Valentine’s Day like we do today.

Who was Saint Valentine?

While the real history of Saint Valentine is a mystery, the legend of Saint Valentine has several versions. The most likely story says Saint Valentine was a Roman priest who performed weddings for soldiers who were forbidden to marry. At the time, they believed that married soldiers made weak warriors. So, this Saint Valentine wore a ring with a Cupid on it—a symbol of love—that helped soldiers recognize him. And, like the first Valentine’s Day cards, he handed out paper hearts to remind Christians of their love for God. Because of this legend, St. Valentine became known as the patron saint of love. 

Why do we celebrate Valentine’s Day?

While the Saint Valentine story set the stage for establishing the Day as a holiday for romantic love, what truly made the connection was a poem by author Geoffrey Chaucer in 1381. This poem is what historians consider the beginning of the “present-day” celebration of Valentine’s Day, where we celebrate our romantic partnerships. Chaucer lived in the Middle Ages, when poems, songs, and paintings celebrated partnership. By the end of the 15th century, “valentine” regularly described a lover in poems and songs. By the mid-19th century, paper Valentine’s Cards were mass-produced, and Valentine’s Day as we know it was born.

What is the meaning of Valentine’s Day?

Over the years, Valentine’s Day has been a religious celebration, an ancient ritual day, and a commercial holiday. All that change means that Valentine’s Day is whatever you want it to be. You can skip the celebrations, buy yourself some chocolate or flowers, or express your love and appreciation for the people in your life who are important to you.

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