The Origins of Valentine’s Day

Malea Seubold

In many countries around the world, hopeful romantics alike are either excited, or dreadful, for the upcoming Valentine’s Day. Loved ones or significant others can receive various gifts like chocolates, stuffed animals, flowers, or cards. Yet, has anyone ever wondered how this love-filled holiday even started? The past origins are unclear, but it is widely agreed that the history of Valentine’s Day likely started with a patron saint named Valentine, and that the modern gift-giving tradition started with a festival long ago during the Roman empire.

St. Valentine was famously painted as a righteous, heroic, and romantic man. There are at least three different saints recognized by the Catholic Church named Valentine, so there are several different versions of his story. One story says that a priest named Valentine defied Emperor Claudius III’s decree that young men could not be married. Valentine thought it was unjust, so he married couples in secret. Valentine was put to death when he was caught. Others insist that St. Valentine of Terni, who was a bishop, was the real namesake. Some tales include that Valentine also tried to help Christians escape from harsh Roman prisons. However, there is one famous legend that is mostly agreed on. According to this legend, an imprisoned St. Valentine fell in love with his jailor’s daughter, who often visited him. It is believed he wrote a letter that ended with, “From your Valentine,” before he died. This is an expression that is often used today in modern tradition. 

That is only one part of the story, though. The true origins of the Valentine’s Day tradition is, unfortunately, also a disputed topic. Some believe that Valentine’s Day was marked to celebrate the death of St. Valentine, which was around 270 A.D. On the other hand, the more popular belief is that St. Valentine’s Day was established in February in order to help “christianize” the celebration of Lupercalia. Lupercalia was celebrated on February 15, and was dedicated to the Roman god of agriculture, Faunus. There were several unique traditions that were performed during this festival. The one most important to Valentine’s Day was performed later in the day. In the city, the young women would place their names in an urn and the single men would draw a name and the couple would then become paired for the year. Oftentimes, these pairs would get married. Romantic, in a way?

The story of Valentine’s Day has a fairly rocky and blurry past. However, there is no question that this holiday is about the sharing of love and care. Whether it be a significant other, or just someone special, anyone can enjoy the fun gift-giving of Valentine’s Day. Who knows? Perhaps, being knowledgeable about the history of Valentine’s Day can earn someone a few gifts this year!