Exploring the history behind St. Valentine’s Day



Erika Frye, Staff Writer

Valentine’s Day is an annual celebration of love that takes place on Feb. 14 in the United States and other parts of the world.  Loved ones exchange gifts, flowers, and candy with one another to show their appreciation on this holiday.

Valentine’s Day has origins in the Roman festival of Lupercalia, which was held in mid-February and celebrated the coming of spring. This festival included fertility rites and pairing off couples by lottery (The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica). Women would place their names in an urn, and the city’s bachelors would choose a name and become paired for the year with his chosen woman (History.com Editors).

Pope Gelasius I replaced Lupercalia with St. Valentine’s Day at the end of the 5th century. It was celebrated as a day of romance beginning around the 14th century (The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica).

This is where the history of St. Valentine’s Day begins to become unclear, as the Catholic Church acknowledges multiple different saints named Valentine or Valentinus (History.com Editors).

One legend is that during third century Rome, Valentine was a priest. The emperor at the time claimed that unmarried men made better soldiers, so he outlawed marriage for young men. It was said that Valentine realized the injustice of this decree and continued performing marriages to lovers in secret. When the emperor found out, Valentine was put to death (History.com Editors).

Another story contends that Valentine was imprisoned and fell in love with his jailor’s daughter, who visited him during his confinement. The origin of exchanging “valentines” on this holiday is said to come from a letter the saint wrote his secret lover before he was put to death, which he signed, “From Your Valentine” (History.com Editors).

Although the truth behind the legends of Saint Valentine is unclear, he is honored as a sympathetic, loving figure in each; hence, Valentine’s Day being a celebration of love (History.com Editors).