Valentines Day: An Origin Story

Nathaniel Pierce, Staff Writer~

A lot of people like Valentine’s Day, and a lot of people don’t. It oftentimes depends on whether or not they have a Valentine for the special holiday. It is considered to be a day of fun and celebration in the name of love; however, it did not start out that way.

Valentine’s Day is named after the Saint Valentine, but there is a lot of mystery and confusion on exactly who he was. In the Catholic Church, there are three saints with a name or variant of Valentine, and they all have a different story behind them. One was a priest who believed in young love (and was killed for it), another was believed to be killed for helping Christians escape prison and the third is said to have sent the first “Valentine” card himself. According to History.com, all three of the stories “Emphasize his appeal as a sympathetic, heroic and – most importantly – romantic figure.” None of these stories are deemed as 100 percent true, but they are fun to consider when looking into the origin of Valentine’s Day.

St. Valentine. Retrieved from catholic.org.

St. Valentine. Retrieved from catholic.org

Dating back to the Roman Empire, there were celebrations of love and fertility in honor of Faunus, the Roman god of agriculture. The Romans also used the day to celebrate their founders, Remus and Romulus. The day originally was the 15th of February, and the celebration was called Lupercalia, referencing the Luperci, who were an order of Roman priests, according to History.com. The Luperci would sacrifice a goat and a dog in honor of the Roman founders. They would then use strips of the goat hide, dipped in the sacrificial blood, to mark women and plants for fertility. The women would welcome this practice, because to them it meant a year of great fertility.

 

When Christianity became the religion of Rome, the pagan practices of the Luperci were banned, and the holiday changed. History.com states that “At the end of the 5th century…Pope Gelasius declared Feb. 14 St. Valentine’s Day.” This name stuck and was practiced as a holiday of love throughout the Middle Ages. During the Middle Ages, the tradition of gifting small trinkets and letters to loved ones became commonly practiced. The oldest recorded Valentine letter, according to History.com, was written in 1415 by the Duke of Orleans. The Duke wrote the letter to his wife while he was kept prisoner in the Tower of London. This letter can be viewed as part of the manuscript collection in the British Library.

Valentine’s Day remained popular, being celebrated primarily in France, the United Kingdom, North America and Australia. The invention of the printing press, both in Europe and the United States, sparked the beginning of the mass-produced Valentine’s Day card. According to the Greeting Card Association, Valentine’s Day sees approximately one billion cards used per year.

From paganistic sacrifices in the name of fertility to a day named after a mysterious Christian saint, to a commercialized holiday, Valentine’s Day has always been a day of love and affection. The holiday has survived centuries, much like love itself.