The Odd Origins of Valentines Day


A.J. Hargett

The history of Valentine’s day is probably very different from what people would imagine it to be. The original Saint Valentine for which the Holiday is named had nothing to do with love; he instead is known as the patron saint of epilepsy and beekeepers and was canonized as a saint after he was killed for preaching to Christians in the Roman Empire which were persecuted at the time. The feast of Saint Valentine was established in 496 AD by Pope Gelasius I. It was to be celebrated on February 14th which was the same date upon which Valentine was executed in 269 AD. Valentines Day was initially just a religious holiday where they celebrate St Valentine and commemorate his execution.


Valentines Day might have it’s ancient roots in a Roman holiday called Lupercalia which was celebrated around the same time as Valentines day. Lupercalia was a holiday that celebrated purification and health and part of that was fertility which might be associated with the aspects of Valentine’s day that deal with love. Another of the reasons that Valentine’s day is associated with love is mid to late medieval poetry and literature that talked about courtly love and chivalry. One example of this particular literature can be found in a poem called Parliament of Fowls by Geoffrey Chaucer who wrote about the engagement of King Richard II of England to Anne of Bohemia. This would most definitely not be the last of it’s kind and many other pieces of literature often use the word Valentine while talking about love.


The more modern practices used to celebrate Valentine’s Day originates from the late 18th and early 19th centuries in the United Kingdom where people would buy what were called “mechanical valentines” which were paper cards with sentimental phrases and verses written on them and they were often decorated with fancy ribbons and lace. These “mechanical valentines” were so popular in England that in 1835 60,000 of these cards were mailed in a time where postage was very expensive. These numbers would be dwarfed in later years as postage got cheaper and went as high as 400,000 cards mailed in 1841. Another tradition associated with Valentine’s day the giving of chocolates might also have its roots in the UK when in 1868 the British chocolate company Cadbury began selling fancy heart shaped boxes of chocolate for Valentines day.

As you can see the holiday of Valentine’s day has changed a lot from its roots in Christian culture and has evolved to depict a holiday of love and affection.  A lot of the changes to Valentine’s day come from Literature and practices that would forever change the way we think about the holiday named after a Christian saint who was killed by the Romans. Really the only connection Valentines day has to the person it’s named after is the name itself.