Each year, on February 14th, millions of people will buy heart-shaped boxes of chocolates and bouquets of roses. People will buy cards for their sweeties, many with the hope that that special someone shares their love.
Today, Valentine’s Day is a day devoted to expressions of amour. It is a day for showing affection. Where did the holiday come from, and who decided February 14th would be the day for lovebirds?
The Origin of Valentine’s Day
The origin of Valentine’s Day may date back to a festival called Lupercalia, an event established by pagans to celebrate fertility. The festival took place in the middle of February, and it honored the upcoming spring.
During the festival, Roman priests sacrificed animals (typically goats or dogs). Women would then wear the animal hides, which were soaked in blood. This was considered a form of blessing for fertility. The hopefully fertile women would then be paired with men based on a lottery system.
By the end of the 400s A.D., Pope Gelasius put an end to the festival, as he determined it was not Christian. He decided to replace it with Valentine’s Day, a Christian feast day instead. Many historians believe the pope wanted to get rid of all pagan holidays and associations with Paganism.
Later on, people would associate the day with love and romance. A connection forged in the 1380s when poet Geoffrey Chaucer mentioned the holiday in
The Parlement of Foules, a poem about birds choosing their mates. Contemporaries John Gower, John Clanvowe, and Oton de Grandson also made note of the holiday around the same time.
Today, most people know Saint Valentine as the patron saint of lovers. He is also the saint associated with beekeepers and epilepsy. Historically, there is still a lot we do not know about the man who became a saint. In fact, there are two people who may have been the Saint Valentine we celebrate today.
One of the candidates is a doctor and priest. The other is an Italian bishop from Terni. Both men were martyred in the 200s A.D. Very little information about is about the saint beyond this.
The Infamous Question
On Valentine’s Day, it is customary to ask people, “Will you be my Valentine?” If you ask someone this question, you ask them to be your partner in romance. When Saint Valentine allegedly said it, he had signed a letter, “from your Valentine.”
The Tradition of Valentines
Today, we call the cards we give each other valentines—but who sent the first? In 1415, Charles, Duke of Orleans, then imprisoned in the Tower of London for being wounded and captured in battle, sent his wife what is most likely the oldest known valentine. Alas, the French nobleman’s beloved died before receiving this holiday love note.
Today, many countries celebrate Valentine’s Day. It is popular throughout Canada, Mexico, France, Australia, the U.K., and the United States. Handmade valentines became popular in the United States in the 1700s. The first mass-produced valentines appeared in the U.S. in the 1840s, and we still send them today.
Valentine’s Day Facts
There are many other interesting facts about Valentine’s Day. Check out this fun trivia:
- Thousands of people send and bring letters to “Juliet” in Verona, Italy. Many have questions and stories about love. A group of volunteers answers the letters.
- Richard Cadbury, creator of the Cadbury chocolate company, began the practice of giving boxes of chocolate in the 1800s.
- Cupid is a major symbol of Valentine’s Day. The Greeks knew Cupid as Eros, the god of love. He was also the son of Aphrodite.
- Americans are projected to spend more than 20 billion dollars celebrating Valentine's Day in 2020.