Where Did Valentine’s Day Come From?

By: Kathy Bolano, Communications Intern

Valentine’s Day has not always been the ultra commercialized “day of love” that it is today. In fact, there are many tales on the origin of the holiday.

What many people don’t know is that there are actually several Catholic saints known as St. Valentine. For instance, Valentine of Rome is thought to be the St. Valentine at the core of modern Valentine’s Day. As is the case with many saints, St. Valentine was martyred because of his Catholic beliefs around 496 AD.

As the story goes, the Roman Emperor Claudius II had outlawed the marriages of young soldiers with the belief that married men did not make for good soldiers. St. Valentine was arrested for performing these outlawed marriages and, more broadly, for preaching Christianity. The romantic lineage of this day was first mentioned in Parlement of Foules (1382) by Geoffrey Chaucer where he alluded to this being the day that birds chose their mates.

Others believe that the origins of Valentine’s Day is linked to the ancient Roman holiday Lupercalia. Lupercalia, a pagan holiday occurring from February 13-15, was a celebration of fertility dedicated to the Roman god of agriculture Faunus, and Romulus and Remus, the founders of Rome. According to legend, during the festival, young women would put their names in an urn where the bachelors of the city would draw their names and be paired with these women for a year. Pope Gelasius I (492-496) attempted to combat widespread celebration of this non-Christian festival by linking the day to a Catholic saint, St. Valentine. Ultimately, this transformed the pagan celebration to a religious event.

Despite its foggy origins, Valentine greetings became popular in the Middle Ages and written valentines started to appear in the 1400s. Charles, Duke of Orleans is thought to have written the oldest known valentine to his wife while he was imprisoned in the Tower of London. In the 17th century, St. Valentine’s day was popular, and by the 18th century people of all classes engaged in exchanging handwritten notes or tokens of affection.  In the 1900s, there was a move towards manufactured printed cards. Today Valentine’s day is second only to Christmas in regards to card sending, with an estimated 1 billion Valentine’s Day cards sent out every year.

At its core, Valentine’s day is about acceptance and showing appreciation to those who are in your life. We hope that you all have a lovely Valentine’s Day.

The views and opinions expressed on The Falls are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of Niagara Foundation, its staff, other authors, members, partners, or sponsors.