Valentine’s Day, celebrated every February 14th, is a day synonymous with love, affection, and the exchange of heartfelt sentiments. However, the roots of this romantic celebration are entwined with a rich tapestry of history, folklore, and the legacy of several saints named Valentine.
The most widely accepted origin of Valentine’s Day dates back to ancient Rome during the rule of Emperor Claudius II in the 3rd century AD. Legend has it that Claudius prohibited young men from marrying, believing that single men made better soldiers. A courageous priest named Valentine defied this decree and continued to perform marriages for young lovers in secret. Eventually discovered, Valentine was sentenced to death, but not before he sent a love letter to the jailer’s daughter, whom he had befriended, signed “from your Valentine.” This poignant gesture is often considered the earliest association of love letters with Valentine’s Day.
Another theory links the origins of Valentine’s Day to a Roman fertility festival called Lupercalia, which took place around the middle of February. During this celebration, young men would draw the names of women from a jar, forming temporary partnerships that often led to marriage. The Church sought to Christianise the festival, and by the 5th century, Pope Gelasius I had officially declared February 14th as St. Valentine’s Day.
The identity of St. Valentine remains somewhat elusive, as there were multiple martyrs with that name. One popular belief is that the Valentine of the love-letter legend was a Roman priest who was executed on February 14th around 269 AD. Another contender is Valentine, the Bishop of Terni, who is said to have been martyred in the same era.
In the Middle Ages, Valentine’s Day became associated with courtly love, thanks in part to the works of Geoffrey Chaucer and his poetic contributions. The tradition of exchanging love notes on Valentine’s Day gained popularity during this time, further cementing the day as a celebration of romantic affection.
The commercialisation of Valentine’s Day with the exchange of cards, flowers, and gifts became more widespread in the 19th century. The advent of mass-produced valentine cards across the world has contributed to the modern iteration of the holiday as a day to express love and appreciation for family, friends, and romantic partners alike.
Today, Valentine’s Day continues to be a global celebration of love, transcending cultural and geographic boundaries. While its origins may be rooted in centuries-old tales of saints and forbidden marriages, the essence of Valentine’s Day remains a celebration of the universal and enduring power of love.