The History of Valentine’s Day

The History of Valentines Day

Seoane Oaxaca and Nidhi R. Rana

Today, you may know Valentine’s Day as the day you give a gift to a loved one, or even as the day you express the way you feel towards that special someone, but how did this all start?

Spoiler Alert: Love wasn’t actually a part of this holiday and its festivities until the early 14th century. 

The beginnings of Valentine’s Day can be found as far back as 6th century B.C. in the ancient Roman festival, Lupercalia, which took place every year on February 15th. According to the History Channel, the festival was filled with “a bloody, violent and sexually-charged celebration awash with animal sacrifice, random matchmaking and coupling in the hopes of warding off evil spirits and infertility.”

In the late 5th century A.D, Pope Gelasius Ⅰ eliminated the pagan celebration and declared February 14th as a day to celebrate the martyrdom of the Saint Valentine. Which brings us to the next question: Who was Saint Valentine?

Saint Valentine was actually a man who tried to convert the Roman Emperor at that time into Christianity. Saint Valentine also married Christian couples in secret, which eventually led to his imprisonment and death, this caused him to be known as a “patron of lovers.” Before St. Valentine was executed, he asked for a pen and paper, where he wrote a farewell letter to his young love, signing it “From your Valentine”. The Romans, henceforth, would write one another affectionate letters and call them Valentines.

Association with romance and love continued to spread throughout the world. Over the centuries, this tradition pursued, and by the 18th century, people would make cards with lace and ribbons for their special someone. Then by 1840, Americans were creating commercially-produced Valentine cards, Esther Howland was among the first to produce Valentine’s Day cards in America. The oldest known Valentine was sent by an imprisoned Charles, Duke of Orleans, to his wife, where he wrote a poem that stated, “I am already sick of love / My very gentle Valentine”. 

Lovers in France also added to the tradition, when they noticed a pattern in the birds around them, where they would mate around the middle of February, and decided to make the 14th a day for humans to mate as well. Italians believed that the first man an unmarried woman saw, was either their future husband or at least resemble them.

South Korea goes above and beyond where February 14th is solely meant for women to do the gift giving. Then, when March 14th rolls around the men are now expected to give chocolates, flowers, and gifts to their significant other. This is called White Day.

But don’t worry for all the single people out there, South Korea also has a Black Day on April 14th, where singles eat dark bowls of black bean-paste noodles.

One last quick fact: Although we are well beyond the Lupercalia origins, Valentine’s Day still uses some of its symbols such as the color red which represented a blood sacrifice and the color white which signified the milk used to wipe the blood clean and represents new life and procreation.

Happy Valentine’s Day!