The History of Valentine’s Day Explained

How did this celebration of love become what it is today?


The history of Valentine’s Day is unlike what most people would guess. It is often thought that the day was created as a ploy by card companies and chocolate producers to make more profit, but according to it can actually be traced centuries back and wasn’t even associated with romance until the 14th century.

The true origin of Valentine’s Day is unknown; there are only rumors and legends spread around for those to believe what they want. Not everything is true, and contrasting arguments can be found in almost every case since there is no clear documentation of when and how the holiday came to be.

One popular belief behind Valentine’s Day is that it began as a way to commemorate St. Valentine’s death. St. Valentine was a Roman priest during the third century who performed secret marriages for young lovers after marriage for young men was outlawed by Emperor Claudius II. The emperor claimed single men made better soldiers than those with wives and families. St. Valentine was later executed for this after his actions were discovered by Claudius.

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About 150 million Valentine’s Day cards are exchanged each year.

It is also often said that Valentine helped Christians escape Roman prisons that beat and tortured their inmates. When he was imprisoned, according to the story, he fell in love with his jailer’s daughter and before his death, he signed a letter addressed to her, “From your Valentine.”

There is no clear reason Valentine’s Day is celebrated in February, but one idea is that people wanted to commemorate the anniversary of Valentine’s death and burial. Another legend says that the Christian church wanted to “Christianize” the celebration of Lupercalia, a pagan fertility festival celebrated on February 15.

This festival was dedicated to Faunus, the Roman god of agriculture, and Romulus and Remus, the founders of Rome. To begin this celebration, members of an order of Roman priests called the Luperci would gather at a sacred cave believed to be the place where Romulus and Remus were cared for by a she-wolf. They would then sacrifice a goat and a dog: the goat for fertility and the dog for purification. The goat’s hide was stripped and dipped into the sacrificial blood, and then crop fields and women would be gently slapped with the blood-soaked hide as a way to become more fertile in the coming year.

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More than 35 million heart-shaped boxes of chocolate will be sold.

At the end of the 5th century, Lupercalia was outlawed for being “un-Christian.” This was also when Pope Gelasius declared Feb. 14 St. Valentine’s Day. However, the day still wasn’t really associated with love, and the first written Valentines didn’t actually appear until after 1400. A poem written in 1415 by Charles, Duke of Orleans to his wife is the oldest known “valentine” still in existence.

Americans probably started exchanging handmade valentines in the early 1700s, and the first mass-produced valentines were sold by Esther A. Howland in the 1840s. Today, about 150 million Valentine’s Day cards are exchanged each year, with women purchasing approximately 85 percent of all valentines. 189 million roses are sold in the US, and 73 percent of people who buy them are men. On average, there are 220,000 wedding proposals on Valentine’s Day, and more than 35 million heart-shaped boxes of chocolate will be sold.