A Day of Love: Why Do We Celebrate Valentine's Day?

When people hear Valentine's Day, they usually think of love, roses, chocolates and a heart-shaped candy box. There is a history and real meaning behind this day of love.

Valentine's Day is celebrated on Feb. 14 of each year. It is traditionally a day to celebrate a loved one or possibly even to expose a secret love of someone. Lovers, friends and kids receive Valentine cards, candy, flowers and other gifts to celebrate each other. It is also a day when many take the opportunity to be overly romantic with a special candlelight dinner and some even proposing marriage.

Valentine's Day is known to be named after St. Valentine. There are three saints named Valentine that the Catholic Church recognizes and all of them were martyred. The story of these three saints is as follows:

One story is that a third-century Roman priest named Valentine went against the Emperor Claudius' rule of outlawing marriage for young men. The Emperor believed the young men should be soldiers, not lovers. Valentine continued to perform marriages for young couples in secret. When his defiance was discovered, he was executed.

Another story is Valentine freed Christians from brutal Roman prisons. For this, he was killed.

While Valentine was jailed, it is said that he fell in love with a girl. This girl was believed to possibly the daughter of the jailer. He sent the girl the first valentine, which was signed From your Valentine. He was eventually put to death.

Although the story is very unclear and none of the legends have been confirmed, there is still something romantic and compassionate about each tale. By the time the Middle Ages occurred, Valentine was one of the most well-known and liked saints in France and England.

Other Stories About Valentine's Day
The pagans used to hold a festival called Lupercalia in the middle of February. This celebration was also known as a fertility festival in which male pagans would chase young maidens around and whip them, thinking this was going to make them fertile.

There are stories that the Christian church may have made the Valentine's Day celebration and feast in the middle of February to divert the attention from the Lupercalia festival and make it a more Christian celebration of love. The Lupercalia festival was eventually outlawed and Pope Gelasius announced Feb. 14 as St. Valentine's Day.

Another idea behind the Feb. 14 date is that this was the time of year that mating season began for birds and this date should be romanticized.

Valentine's Day Greetings
The first Valentine's day greetings sent to lovers or romantic interests are said to date back to the Middle Ages, but for all official purposes, the first known Valentine's greeting appeared in 1400. There is still a poem in existence today that Charles, the Duke of Orleans wrote for his wife in 1415.

Valentine's Day is celebrated in many countries today, including the United States, Mexico, Australia, Canada and many more. All of these countries have been using greeting cards since about 1900 to send to their sweethearts.