History and origins of Valentine’s Day

Ha-Jin Attenborough and Kai Arellano

Annually recognized on the 14th of February, Valentine’s Day is a celebration of love. Exchanging love letters, buying flowers, and gifting a box of chocolates are all common symbolic gestures representing the sentiments of the day. While the origin of Valentine’s Day is debated among historical scholars, many believe it originated from the deaths of Christian martyrs and several St. Valentines.

Essentially, there have been three canonized saints who share the name “St. Valentine.” The remains of Saints from the time offer only a vague description of the earliest St. Valentine. He is known to have died in Africa and originally was referred to as Valentinus.

The second Valentinus, according to a medieval legend, was a Roman priest who was imprisoned for sharing the religion of Christianity. It is said that after receiving the ability to cure blindness from God, St. Valentine utilized the ability to convert a family to his religion. The family pledged to convert if he made the child see, and following this, the Saint allowed for the child’s sight. However, once the current King was aware of the deed, St. Valentine was ordered to be beheaded. His execution took place on February 14th.

Although not initially characterized as a romantic figure either, the third St. Valentine was said to have performed marriage rituals and passed love letters between jailed Christians. Comparable to the other two saints, his death occurred on February 14th.

Not until the middle ages were all three St. Valentines associated with romance. First viewed as religious figures, they only contributed to the modern conception of Valentine’s Day centuries later.

Regardless, the origins of this holiday are still controversial. There are theories that Valentine’s Day was purposefully placed on February 14th in an attempt to Christianize the Roman holiday of Lupercalia, which falls on February 15th. The holiday was originally a day of rowdy festivities with men streaking in the streets of Rome. The belief was that by celebrating Lupercalia, women would be granted healthy babies.

Hundreds of years later, some English writers began to associate February with bird-mating season. This connection created the idea that it was a time of romance. In the 15th century, the Duke of Orleans sent a notable historical letter in which he called his wife a “very gentle Valentine.” It became a common practice to send love notes throughout mid-February. Gradually, the messaging practice consolidated to just the 14th as this day became increasingly correlated with love.

In the following centuries, couples continued the tradition of writing romantic letters to each other. Shakespeare’s stories and general industrialization also contributed to the growth of Valentine’s Day’s representation. Companies began to jump on the holiday with chocolate manufacturers creating holiday-specific candies and card companies such as Hallmark designing Valentine’s Day themed cards. The now widely-recognized heart symbol also became closely associated with February 14th.

In spite of its disputed origins, Valentine’s Day is now a meaningful celebration with significance extended beyond couples. It can be acknowledged as a day with a universal complexity to share all forms of love; it provides a perfect opportunity to show appreciation. Whether it is purchasing flowers for a mother or surprising someone with chocolate, Valentine’s Day allows us a chance to show compassion towards loved ones.