The History of Valentine’s Day


Emyli Thompson, Opinion writer

Valentine’s Day is different for everyone. For some it’s a wonderful day to spend with people you love, others may just laugh it off calling it a scandal, and some may cry and eat ice cream while watching The Notebook or To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before. Regardless of how you celebrate it, it has an origin and development like any other holiday.

The holiday was made by the Catholic Church after one of the St. Valentines, although no one truly knows who it was and what happened. One of the most popular legends was when Valentine saw the injustice of the Emperor Claudius II outlawing marriage for young men- because single men were better soldiers than those with wives. Valentine held ceremonies for young lovers in secret, eventually he was beheaded for defying Claudius. There are some people who think that Saint Valentine of Terni-who was also beheaded by Claudius-may have been the true namesake of the holiday. The last story of how the holiday came to be is that he may have been killed for helping Christian prisoners escape from prisons who used torture as a punishment. He allegedly wrote the first “valentine” using the signage From your Valentine to greet himself to a girl, possibly the jailer’s daughter, who visited him.


Some believe that Valentine’s Day is the anniversary to commemorate Saint Valentine’s death or burial, when it may have been just a cover up to “Christianize” the pagan festival of Lupercalia. Celebrated around February 15th, Lupercalia was a fertility festival dedicated to the Roman god of agriculture, Faunus, and the Roman founders Romulus and Remus. Members of the Luperci (an order of Roman priests) would gather at a sacred cave where the founders of Rome, Romulus and Remus, were cared for by a she-wolf. The priests will sacrifice a goat for fertility and a dog for purification, and the goats hide will be stripped and dipped in sacrificial blood to gently slap fertility into a woman. This is the start of Lupercalia. By the end of the day, all of the young woman will place their names in an urn and the bachelor of the city will pick a name for his chosen woman, which will be paired for the year. Although the holiday survived the reigns of Christianity, it was outlawed because it was deemed “un-Christian”. Pope Gelasius declared February 14th to be St. Valentine’s Day at the end of the 5th century, although it wasn’t associated with love until around the Middle Ages when people of France and England believed it was the start of the bird’s mating season. In 1375, the English poet Geoffrey Chaucer was the first to record St. Valentine’s Day as a romantic holiday in his poem Parliament of Foules, to which he writes, “For this was sent on Seynt Valentine’s day / Whan every foul cometh ther to choose his mate.” The oldest known written valentine was written by Charles, Duke of Orleans to his wife when he was imprisoned in the tower of London. In the Hellenistic period, the Greek god of love, Eros, is reintroduced as a mischievous child known as Cupid on Valentine’s Day cards.


Valentine’s Day was popularly celebrated around the 17th century in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, the U.K., France and Australia. In the early 1700s, people would make each other hand-made Valentine’s and around the mid-1800s, it was common for people of all social classes to exchange tokens of affection and appreciation or handmade notes. Esther A. Howland sold the first mass produced valentine’s, decorated with lace, ribbons and colorful pictures, in the 1840s, which earned her the name “Mother of the Valentine”. Printed cards started to replace handmade letters due to advancements in printing technology by 1900. According to the Greeting Card Association, about 145 million Valentine’s Day cards are sent each year, which makes Valentine’s Day the second largest card sending holiday (Christmas beats Valentine’s Day with an estimated 2 billion cards sent a year).


Although Valentine’s Day is known for romance, it wasn’t always so lovey-dovey. In the Victorian era, some valentines could be mean and hostile. Originally called a mocking or comic valentine, “vinegar valentine” was often use as a brutal alternative to a valentine to ward off those who were not on good terms. Vinegar valentine’s often featured comical stereotypes of all kinds, and sometimes poked fun around a person’s appearance, calling for some next level roasting. Valentines and vinegar valentines both contributed to the growth of Valentine’s Day as a popular form of communication, helping the stationery industry. Since Valentine’s Day is a form of celebration and is a holiday, many will splurge on paper, wax seals and pictures, and while doing this, printing costs were cheaper and postal systems developed and advanced.


So, is Valentine’s Day a scam, or is it truly a meaningful time of the year? Honestly, it depends on how you look at it. Of course, we live in a capitalist economy, so industries will take advantage of events and holidays as any business would. However, whether there is a meaning behind the holiday or not, is entirely up to you. Some simply send a card with their thoughts, and some go all out and buy a mariachi band, skydive with a banner and land on an elephant proposing with fireworks spelling their name. In the end, like any other holiday, it is what you make of it.