Where Did Valentine’s Day Come From?

These popular candies are in great demand as the Valentine’s Day season approaches. They are just one example of the many Valentine’s gift options -- others being flowers and cards. (Public Domain of Wikipedia)

Every year when February comes around people not only in the U.S but across the world get excited for Valentine’s Day. Many holidays like Christmas and Thanksgiving emphasize family love and spending time with family. However February 14 focuses on a romantic love — heart candies and chocolates, flowers, and cute stuffed animals are common gifts. Different countries all over the world celebrate in unique ways, reflecting ideas of love.

But where did this tradition come from? It all started with the patron Saint Valentine, whose life historians do not know much about. There are multiple stories of this saint and how he helped create this holiday — ranging from a priest who performed marriage in secret for young couples, to an imprisoned man who gave the first “valentine” to a girl he had fallen in love with during confinement. Depicted as a sympathetic, heroic, and romantic figure, he became very popular in the Middle Ages.

Since the 14th Century, people view the holiday as a day of romance. Taking a look into history, the Roman festival Lupercalia was also held in mid-February. There were fertility rites and women paired off with men for the year by a lottery — which often ended in marriage. Later in the 5th century, Pope Gelasius I replaced it with a more Christian St. Valentine’s Day.

One of the most popular ways of gift-giving for the holiday is giving and exchanging cards. Whether it is for a special someone, a best friend, or a family member, cards showing your love and appreciation for someone is the spirit of the holiday. In the early 19 century printed cards began to replace handwritten notes — and now Valentine’s Day is the second biggest card-sending holiday, with an estimated 145 million given each year.

In elementary school celebrating holidays is a big deal, and Valentine’s Day is no exception. Every year until middle school my class would make little mailboxes and decorate them with our names using different art supplies. We’d go home and make each of our classmate’s little Valentines to put in their mailboxes the next day — then when the 14th came around everyone would open them to see what they had received. Many other schools have other fun traditions, celebrating the holiday in small ways.

However, as people get into middle and high school the days of little cards and chocolates are no more. Everyone feels the pressure to have a valentine to celebrate with, and while this is a holiday geared toward romance this can be a great time to show some love to the important people in your life. Go out for a fun lunch with friends, or have a Valentines-day based movie night. Whatever you end up doing, this historic holiday should be one to enjoy.


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