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The History Behind Valentine’s Day

Updated on July 10, 2014
Valentine's Day Duckies
Valentine's Day Duckies | Source

Valentine’s Day is not just a corporate holiday made to extract money from star-dazed lovers. Maybe it is like that now but Valentine’s Day has a unique legitimate history behind it. Yes before the chocolate, candy hearts, teddy bears, flowers and Valentine‘s day cards, Valentine’s day is thousands of years old and has ties to ancient roman times and traditions. Even so, what is the history behind Valentine’s Day? How and why Valentine’s Day began? Who is St Valentine/Valentius? What is its purpose of this “holiday”? Why do we still celebrate Valentine’s Day?

Saint Valentine baptizing St. Lucilla by Jacopo Bassano (Jacopo da Ponte)
Saint Valentine baptizing St. Lucilla by Jacopo Bassano (Jacopo da Ponte) | Source

The Mystery and Legends around “Valentine” Valentius

There are many mysteries and legends surrounding the origins of Valentine’s Day. It was originally St. Valentines’ Day named after a Catholic saint. This saint, is Valentine or Valentius (in ancient Roman times), legend has it that Valentius was a priest during third century Rome. At this time war and violence was the norm (as is today) and Emperor Claudius II thought it would be more convenient and efficient if soldiers didn’t have a wife or kids to tie them down. So he decided to outlaw marriage for young men. Even so, Valentius a defender of love and marriage went behind Emperor Claudius’s back and decided to defy this law by performing marriage ceremonies for couples. A brave, noble move Claudius found out and Valentius the brave, law defying priest was put to death.

Saint Valentine bossing around his plebeians
Saint Valentine bossing around his plebeians | Source

Another legend has Valentius as a rebel who helped persecuted Christians escape from Roman prisons, Roman prisons were infamous for the way they tortured Christians (they did hung Christians on crosses to die). Even so, in this legend again Valentius is killed.

Another more popular, appropriate legend aligned to the tradition of Valentine’s Day, has Valentius as an imprisoned man in love with his jailor’s daughter. Quite an epic love story right? Take that Romeo and Juliet. This legend is credited for Valentius sending his love, through an address; supposedly signing it “From your Valentine.” This is noted for being the first Valentine’s Day greeting. By the way he dies in the end. Using all this ancient Roman history, by Middle Ages Valentine’s legacy had become a staple to Western Europe (especially France and England.

The Lupercalian Festival in Rome by Adam Elzheimer
The Lupercalian Festival in Rome by Adam Elzheimer | Source

Valentine’s Day Pagan Origins: The Festival of Lupercalia

Even so, why is Valentine’s Day celebrated in February? Some have suggested that Valentius died during this time and this day is used as a way to commemorate his death, which happened around A.D 270. The most reasonable explanation lies in the pagan festival of Lupercalia. This festival was dedicated the twin founders of Rome, twin brothers Romulus and Remus, and is also dedicated to the Roman god of agriculture, a god named Faunus. In this festival the Luperci, a group of Roman priests would gather in a cave to sacrifice a dog (for purification of course) and a goat (it had it coming) for fertility. The goat’s hides were cut into strips, dipped in blood and the priests will go around slapping women with these bloody goat strips. This sounds like the plot of a bad porno and horror film mixed together, but apparently these women welcomed it because they believed it made them fertile. After being slapped around with bloody goat guts, these women’s names were placed into a big urn. Eligible bachelors would then choose a name of a female and was paired with her for a year (this often led to marriage). All jokes aside any woman that is willing to be slapped about with bloody goat guts, should have the honor to get married.

This man Pope Gelasius I, was not having it
This man Pope Gelasius I, was not having it | Source

So how does this tie with Valentius? Well this had been a long pagan tradition, before Rome succumbs to Christianity. So rulers decides to just rebranded this pagan festival by Christianizing it (Valentius became a saint, St Valentine) and putting a Christian face to this pagan festival. By the way Christmas and Halloween were also pagan traditions modernized by religion Not only that but the legends and rumors surrounding Valentius as a ride or die romantic, helped mystify his celebrity. I mean come on isn’t being slapped around with strips of a goat’s bloody hides’ kind of hot and romantic?

Even though, pagans tried to rebrand Lupercalia by “including” Christianity into this festival the Christians weren’t buying it. So it was outlawed by Pope Gelasius in the 5th century when he declared February 14th to be St Valentine’s Day; and so it began. I guess the Pope wasn’t too fond of his followers sacrificing goats and smearing blood all over fertile women. Oh those bloody pagans!

Valentine greeting card,1909
Valentine greeting card,1909 | Source
Holding her heart  3
Holding her heart 3 | Source

Valentine’s Day and its Association with L.O.V.E

Why is it that St Valentine is associated with love? Yes Valentius was a ride or die lover that can give Romeo a run for his money, but his story (stories) were that of legends and personal. How did it got to and stayed with the masses? I mean yes the French and English believed this day marked the commencement of bird mating season, but let’s be realistic, who really cares that birds are up in the sky, mating and plotting of ways to steal your crops. The answer is greeting cards that started as back as St. Valentius himself. Even so, by the Middle Ages, the masses caught on with the exchange of greeting cards. It caught like the plague (pun intended). I mean it even got the womanizing King Henry V hiring a writer to write a sexy note to Catherine of Valois. Lovers of all classes exchanged letters, note, poems and all that cheesy stuff in between with their lovers.

Esther Howland
Esther Howland | Source

Corporate Valentine’s Day: Monetizing Love

Today Valentine’s Day is celebrated worldwide in four continents (North America, Europe, and Oceania, aka the United States/Mexico, France/United Kingdom and Australia. By the 1900s the printing technology improved and printed, ready-made cards were all the rage. They saved time and were cheaper than going through the postage system. While as in America citizens began exchanging hand-made cards to one another. So it wasn’t long before someone decided to monetize on this phenomenon. This vermin, nicknamed Mother Valentine was a woman named Esther A. Howland who produced her own home-made intricate (and over the top) cards made with lace, ribbons and scrap pictures. To be quite honest she probably just had too much time on her hands. Even so, Valentine’s Day has taken off and today about a billion people buy and send Valentine’s Day cards to lovers, family, and friends (women make up eighty-five, 85% of these valentines). Valentine’s Day card-buying/exchanging/giving is only second to that of Christmas card sales.

Esther Howland's Valentine card titled, Affection 1870s'
Esther Howland's Valentine card titled, Affection 1870s' | Source

Even so, Valentines’ Day has come a long way from its legends of Valentius/St. Valentine to the Roman pagan roots in Ancient Rome. To the card exchanging through the High Middle Ages in Western Europe to the corporate holiday that it is today. Valentine's day has come a long way. So HAPPY VALENTINE’S DAY HALLMARK (OH AND OF COURSE TO ALL THE RIDE OR DIE LOVERS OUT THERE).

What is the meaning of Valentine's Day for you?

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    • deecoleworld profile image

      deecoleworld 4 years ago from USA


    • poetryman6969 profile image

      poetryman6969 4 years ago

      Happy Hallmark Holiday!