The shocking history of Valentine’s Day


Ruthie Light, Editor

February 14 is a date that is famously well-known and celebrated as “Valentine’s Day.” Most people use this day as a time to spoil their partners, or any loved ones, with gifts and greetings to express their affection. What most people do not know, however, is that Valentine’s Day dates all the way back to 1375. 

It is known by most that the holiday is named in honor of “St. Valentine”, but who actually is this St. Valentine? It is believed that St. Valentine could actually be based on two different men, both of whom were holy figures by the name of Valentine and executed on February 14 at the hands of Roman Emperor Claudius II in 3rd century A.C.E. The first man, Saint Valentine of Terni, had been said to secretly officiate weddings for Roman soldiers against the emperor’s wishes. This made him, through most eyes, an advocate and supporter of love. The other tale involves the gift-giving and love-letter writing aspect of the holiday. It is said that while he was in prison for an arrangement of crimes, St. Valentine wrote the first “valentine” to a young girl he tutored and fell in love with. Before his death, he wrote her a letter signed “From your Valentine,” which has since been used as a common phrase for the holiday. It is entirely possible that the Catholic Church established the holiday to honor these men, who they believed were martyrs. 

Alongside the Catholics, the Pagans also took part in the creation of Valentine’s Day. Although the Catholic origins of the holiday are slightly disarming, they are actually very mild when compared to that of the Pagans. In Ancient Rome, there was a mid-February “fertility” festival called ‘Lupercalia’. The festival is said to be dedicated to the Roman god of agriculture, Faunas, and the Roman founders Romulus and Remus. This feast involved a ritual where Roman priests ran around with no clothing on through the streets. While doing this, they would “gently slap” women with the blood-soaked hides of sacrificed animals, which they believed enhanced fertility. Later, the women would be paired off with men “by lottery.” 

After hearing the grueling origins of Valentine’s Day, you may be wondering, “When did Valentine’s Day become romantic?” The mid-19th century is said to mark the beginning of many well-known Valentine’s Day traditions we know today. In the early 1800s, Victorian men would charm women with flowers to show their affection on February 14. Later on in 1850, the “Mother of American Valentine, Esther Howland, became the first person to commercialize English-style Valentine’s Day cards, thanks to her assembly line process that made the cards affordable for most Americans. At the time, she was only in her twenties. Then, in 1868, Richard Cadbury created the first heart-shaped box of chocolates, and the New England Confectionery Company, or Necco, began crafting the early version of Conversation Hearts. These icons played a massive role in the modern gift-giving aspect of Valentine’s Day. 

At the root of it all, it is evident that Valentine’s Day has always been a date filled with love, no matter how bizarre traditions may have been.