The history of Valentine’s Day: a celebration of love, or is it?

Every year on 14th February we celebrate the powerful force and feeling that is, love. We show our loved ones how much we care about them through thoughtfully written cards, gifts, bouquets of flowers and more. In past years it was often thought of as a day only for those with romantic partners. However, as the years and times have progressed, Valentine’s Day is now a day to celebrate love in all its kinds and forms. Love for yourself, friends, family and partners. But, where did Valentine’s Day come from? Why is it on the 14th February? And despite its popularity, does it have a future?

The history behind Valentine’s Day is surrounded with mystery, different beliefs and no concrete evidence. Which is perfect for those who detest Valentine’s Day… However, there are promising theories about where the day came from. 

It is well known that it all stems from a famous saint, St. Valentine. But, there are various theories about who this was, as ancient sources reveal that there were many St. Valentines who died on 14th February. 

During the reign of the Roman Emperor Claudius Gothicus in 269-270 A.D. two St. Valentines were executed on the 14th February (in different years). It was a time of rife Christian persecution. It is possible that Valentine’s Day is based on the combination of these two men as it is believed that the Christian Church established St. Valentine’s Day to honour them. 

One of the men, St. Valentine of Terni, had apparently been secretly officiating weddings for Roman soldiers, going against the wishes of the Emperor. This made him a proponent of love and it is said that he wrote the first “valentine” to a young girl he tutored and fell in love with whilst he was imprisoned, with the letter signed “From your Valentine”. 

Another theory is that Valentine’s Day was elected by Pope Gelasius I in 496 A.D. to replace the ancient Roman festival Lupercalia. Lupercalia was a rowdy festival in celebration of fertility which included a feast of debauchery where an order of priests would run naked through the streets “gently slapping” women with blood-soaked hides of sacrificed animals. This was one of the rituals and was believed to promote fertility. Another tradition included men selecting women’s names from a jar to decide who would stay together for the next year, or marry if they fell in love. 

An English professor from the University of Kansas, Jack B. Oruch, has stated that the poet Geoffrey Chaucer (author of Canterbury Tales) was the one to establish Valentine’s Day as we know it today as he was the first one to link love with St. Valentine in his 14th century works “The Parlement of Foules” and “The Complaint of Mars”. 

In Chaucer’s time, 14th February was considered the first day of spring in Britain because it was the start of the birds mating season. In “Parlement of Foules” he wrote “For this was on seynt Volantynys day. Whan euery bryd comyth there to chese his make” referencing to the English birds paired to produce eggs. Soon after, European nobility began sending love notes during bird-mating season and February mating was embraced by English audiences. 

The amorous associations of Valentine’s Day are thanks to Chaucer and fellow writer Shakespeare. In Shakespeare’s Hamlet, lovestruck Ophelia spoke of herself as Hamlet’s Valentine and after these works, people started writing and sending love letters to celebrate the day. 

By the early 1910s an American company, that would become Hallmark, started distributing its “Valentine’s Day cards” and Englishmen and women began using 14th February as an excuse to write verses to their romantic loves. 

The onset of industrialisation boomed the production of illustrated cards, making it easier for people to write and show their admiration to their loves on 14th February. Then came along chocolate manufacturers. On 14th February 1861, Richard Cadbury created the very first heart shaped box of chocolates. 

So, the day that started with the penning and exchanging of love letters boomed to what we now know it as today, a celebration of love that is usually through gifts, chocolates, flowers and more. 

The history of Valentine’s Day is not as romantic as you might have hoped and is also not fact. It is based on beliefs, theories and ancient sources. Yet, according to YouGov, it is the 13th most popular national and religious event, and the 9th most famous. 

However, conversations surrounding Valentine’s Day are starting to change. Do we really need to show our admiration to our loved ones through gifts and cards? Is it really an important day? Or is it just a profit for big businesses?

In a recent YouGov poll of more than 21,000 US adults, a majority (57%) say that Valentine’s Day is celebrated more because of the pressure from commercial entities and only 28% say they think it is celebrated more because it is a “real” special occasion. 

So from this finding, it seems that the commotion and celebration surrounding Valentine’s Day is starting to dwindle due to the event being overtaken and advertised by big businesses wanting big money. The day that started off as a simple love letter and honouring the St. Valentine martyrs has become a day of increased pressure for both genders. Is it time for us to call it quits on Valentine’s Day and the romantic gestures that are expected on the day?

Can you see the popularity of Valentine’s Day lasting? Do you celebrate it and are you this year? Let me know your thoughts in the comments.


References:

https://today.yougov.com/topics/lifestyle/articles-reports/2021/02/02/valentines-day-real-holiday-poll-data

https://www.history.com/topics/valentines-day/history-of-valentines-day-2

https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/gory-origins-valentines-day-180968156/

https://www.countryliving.com/life/a46353/history-of-valentines-day/

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2 Comments

  1. Very enjoyable and informative piece; loved reading all about the origins of this day. I think it is just a bit of fun and a day where we can show our love in simple, heartfelt ways.

  2. I enjoyed reading this post Belle, Valentine’s Day is a day for loved ones to celebrate through cards and gifts 🎁 to do special things for each other I enjoyed the fuss, surprise gifts and I enjoyed watching and hearing loved ones celebrating and having a good day too 🌹

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