What's the Origin of Valentine's Day? Like Your Bestie's Relationship Status, It's Complicated (2024)

Valentine's Day today is a sweet day of pinks and purples, boxes of chocolate, and bouquets. Schoolchildren craft cute boxes to collect valentines from classmates, while we plan romantic dinners and exchange sentimental gifts with our one and only. But the holiday's history is a bit more complicated. Here we give you a succinct yet informative Valentine's Day history, from its origins to its celebration today.

Students of history might often ask if the day has pagan origins or spiritual ones and what the meaning of the day was originally intended to be. You might also wonder how it became a romantic holiday and eventually a commercial one. To answer those questions and more, we're sharing some basic Valentine’s Day facts, plus some legends, involving saints, a Roman holiday called Lupercalia, and the poet Geoffrey Chaucer (who knew?). No matter how you celebrate the holiday, you're sure to be interested in its storied history.

Now let's get started on it from the beginning...

What's the Origin of Valentine's Day? Like Your Bestie's Relationship Status, It's Complicated (1)

A Valentine’s Day postcard circa 1913.

Where does the name Valentine come from?

The holiday is aptly named after Saint Valentine, but who exactly was he?

Valentine is likely based on a combination of two Valentines who were executed on February 14 in different years by Roman Emperor Claudius II in the 3rd century A.C.E., according to NPR. The Catholic Church maybe have established St. Valentine's Day to honor these two martyrs.

Legend says that one of these men, Saint Valentine of Terni, had officiated weddings for Roman soldiers in secret, going against the emperor's wishes, making him seen to some as a proponent of love.

Another story involves the practice of writing love letters to your valentine. It's said that St. Valentine wrote the first “valentine” greeting to a young girl he tutored and fell in love with while he was imprisoned for the crimes outlined above. According to The History Channel, before his death, he wrote her a letter signed “From your Valentine," which remains a commonly used phrase to this day.

But these romantic anecdotes are only legends. So little historical information is known about the martyrs named St. Valentine that in 1969 the Roman Catholic Church removed the feast day from its calendar, though St. Valentine is still recognized as a saint.

What's the Origin of Valentine's Day? Like Your Bestie's Relationship Status, It's Complicated (3)

St. Valentine's Day circa 1800.

Does Valentine's Day have pagan origins?

There was a mid-February fertility festival in ancient Roman called Lupercalia, which some believe was a forerunner to Valentine's Day (and the rest of this paragraph is not PG). Dedicated to the Roman god of agriculture, Faunas, and Roman founders Romulus and Remus, this feast of debauchery involved a ritual where an order of Roman priests ran naked through the streets, "gently slapping" women with the blood-soaked hides of sacrificed animals (yes, really), which they believed promoted fertility. Later, notes Britannica.com, the women would be paired off with men "by lottery."

In the late 5th century, Pope Gelasius I outlawed Lupercalia. Some contend that he designated the celebration of St. Valentine's Day on February 14 to replace the pagan holiday.

When did Valentine's Day become a romantic holiday?

If you're thinking that none of this sounds very lovey-dovey, that's because Valentine's Day did not begin to resemble the romantic holiday we know today until the Middle Ages—and we might have the poet Geoffrey Chaucer to thank.

The late scholar Jack B. Oruch, a University of Kansas English professor, determined that Chaucer was the first to link love with St. Valentine in his 14th-century works "The Parliament of Fowls" and "The Complaint of Mars," notes the Times. Therefore, Oruch claimed, Chaucer invented Valentine's Day as we know it today.

At the time of Chaucer's writing, February 14 also happened to be considered the first day of spring in Britain, because it was the beginning of birds' mating season—perfectly appropriate for a celebration of affection. In fact, Chaucer's "The Parliament of Fowls" is all about birds (albeit anthropomorphized ones) gathering to choose their mates: "For this was on Saint Valentine’s day, / When every fowl comes there his mate to take," reads one of the verses.

Why didn't Chaucer just write "For this was on February 14…"? Poetry aside, it would not have been the convention of the times. In a blog post for The Folklore Society, folklorist Jacqueline Simpson explains it this way: "In the Catholic Church every day in the year celebrates at least one saint, and for a public who had no printed calendars it was easier to remember dates by names than by figures."

Why do we celebrate Valentine's Day?

Whether or not Chaucer can be fully credited, it is true that he and fellow writer Shakespeare popularized the amorous associations surrounding the day. Soon, people began penning and exchanging love letters to celebrate Valentine's Day.

The mid-19th century marked the beginning of many of the commercialized Valentine's Day traditions we know today. Victorian men wooed women with flowers, Richard Cadbury created the first heart-shaped box of chocolates, and the New England Confectionery Company, or Necco, began stamping out an early version of Conversation Hearts. Also around this time, the "Mother of the American Valentine" Esther Howland, only in her early 20s, popularized store-bought English-style valentines in America thanks to her innovative assembly line process that made the elaborate cards affordable. (Google some of Howland's creations—they will inspire you to DIY your own Valentine's Day cards!)

By the early 1910s, an American company that would one day become Hallmark began distributing its more official "Valentine's Day cards." The rest, of course, is history.

What's the Origin of Valentine's Day? Like Your Bestie's Relationship Status, It's Complicated (7)

A Valentine’s Day postcard from 1910.

What part does Cupid play on Valentine's Day?

It's not all about St. Valentine! Cupid—that winged baby boy often seen on Valentine's Day cards and paraphernalia—is another symbol of this love-filled holiday, and it's easy to understand why. In Roman mythology, Cupid was the son of Venus, goddess of love and beauty. He was known for shooting arrows at both gods and humans, causing them to fall instantly in love with one another. While it's unclear exactly when Cupid was brought into the Valentine's Day story, it's certainly clear why.

What's the Origin of Valentine's Day? Like Your Bestie's Relationship Status, It's Complicated (9)

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Lifestyle Editor

Taysha Murtaugh was the Lifestyle Editor at CountryLiving.com.

What's the Origin of Valentine's Day? Like Your Bestie's Relationship Status, It's Complicated (10)

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Terri Robertson is the Senior Editor, Digital, at Country Living, where she shares her lifelong love of homes, gardens, down-home cooking, and antiques.

What's the Origin of Valentine's Day? Like Your Bestie's Relationship Status, It's Complicated (2024)


What is the true origin of Valentine's day? ›

Valentine's Day did not come to be celebrated as a day of romance until about the 14th century. Although there were several Christian martyrs named Valentine, the day may have taken its name from a priest who was martyred about 270 ce by the emperor Claudius II Gothicus.

What is the dark history of Valentine's day? ›

One Valentine was a priest in third-century Rome who defied Emperor Claudius II after the ruler outlawed marriage for young men. St. Valentine would perform marriages in secret for young lovers, ultimately leading to his death.

What is the real meaning of Valentine? ›

It originated as a Christian feast day honoring a martyr named Valentine, and through later folk traditions it has also become a significant cultural, religious and commercial celebration of romance and love in many regions of the world. Valentine's Day. A Valentine's card, c.

Why Valentine's day is bad for relationships? ›

There are expectations, comparisons, and pressure on people that take the joy out of the holiday. The entire concept of the holiday, love, is often completely forgotten about in the stress of contenting your partner. Our perception of love isn't healthy.

What does the Bible say about Valentine's day? ›

1 John 4:7-12. Dear friends: let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.

What is the purpose of Valentine's day? ›

What is Valentine's Day? St Valentine's Day is an annual festival to celebrate romantic love, friendship and admiration. Every year on 14 February people celebrate this day by sending messages of love and affection to partners, family and friends.

What is the logic behind Valentine's day? ›

Held in mid-February, the festival celebrated the coming of spring with raucous celebrations and fertility rites. At the end of the 5th century, Pope Gelasius forbade the celebration of Lupercalia, and some suggest that he replaced it with a day to celebrate the martyred St. Valentine.

What is the legend behind Valentine's day? ›

Emperor Claudius II executed two men — both named Valentine — on Feb. 14 of different years in the third century. Their martyrdom was honored by the Catholic Church with the celebration of St. Valentine's Day.

What is the spiritual meaning of Valentine's day? ›

While the holiday has undergone secularization over time, its origins in Christian martyrdom and acts of love align with broader spiritual themes of compassion, selflessness, and devotion. For some, Valentine's Day serves as a reminder of the importance of love in both human relationships and spiritual practice.

Does Valentine mean relationship? ›

A valentine is a sweetheart: specifically, someone who receives a greeting or attention on Valentine's Day. There are many words for someone you like in a romantic way, such as sweetie, main squeeze, boyfriend, girlfriend, significant other, and special someone.

Why is Valentine's day considered a pagan holiday? ›

However, many historians believe the day originated from the Roman pagan festival of fertility called Lupercalia, an event filled with animal sacrifice, random coupling and the whipping of women; not quite the romantic chocolate and roses day that we celebrate today.

Should Christians celebrate Valentine's day? ›

If that works for you, do it. But the biblical pattern teaches us that romantic love between husband and wife should be on display often and much. It isn't that celebrating Valentine's Day is too much; it is too little and weak. Christians, live your married years so that you don't need Valentine's Day.

What is negative about Valentine's day? ›

For some, the holiday may serve as a source of joy and connection, strengthening bonds with loved ones. For others, it may exacerbate feelings of loneliness, isolation, or unworthiness. Valentine's Day can also pose challenges for individuals who have endured trauma or loss in past relationships.

What should you not say on Valentine's day? ›

Valentine's Day is celebrated around the world on February 14.
  • "I can't wait to have your babies."
  • 2. " Roses are red violets are blue...."
  • "I have to cancel."
  • 4. " ...
  • "I think we should see other people."
  • "I love you... even though you have gotten older/ fatter/ frumpier."
  • "I don't care about Valentine's Day."
Feb 14, 2020

Why are people against Valentine's day? ›

The traditions of Valentine's Day bring strong feelings, both for and against. Do you appreciate a cute tradition? Or do you hold it in contempt as a consumerist scam? Critics have blamed it for upholding a narrow-minded model of relationships as heterosexual and monogamous.

What is the story of the Valentine? ›

According to legend, St. Valentine signed a letter “from your Valentine” to his jailer's daughter, whom he had befriended and healed from blindness. Another common legend states that he defied the emperor's orders and secretly married couples to spare the husbands from being conscripted to serve in war.


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