These days, thoughts of Valentine’s Day are almost always accompanied by thoughts of chocolate, sentimental notes and cards, and bouquets of flowers. Valentine’s Day has changed significantly since it was first celebrated in 496 AD. The holiday is thought to have originated from a Roman festival called Lupercalia, which was held in the month of February, just like our modern Valentine’s Day is. Like many people know, the holiday was named after St. Valentine, around whom many legends have been formed. But how did a saint and a Roman festival turn into the holiday of love we celebrate today?
One of the most widely circulated stories about St. Valentine revolves around the dramatic concept of forbidden love. In third-century Rome, Emperor Claudius II, in an attempt to better the Roman army, decided to outlaw marriages, believing that single men would be more focused as soldiers than men who were married or had children. St. Valentine did not agree with Claidus’ policies and decided he would continue to marry Romans in secret. When Roman officials discovered what St. Valentine had been doing, he was sentenced to death-some historians believe he was killed on February 14. Other researchers and historians speculate that St. Valentine was a bishop who was beheaded by Claudius, while still others insist that St. Valentine was killed because he was attempting to help Christian prisoners escape the brutal treatment they endured under the Roman administration. Legend has it that once St. Valentine was imprisoned for these illegal actions, he fell in love with one of those prisoners and gave her a letter signed “Love your Valentine” before he was taken to be executed, which is a message still associated with Valentine’s Day today.
The Lupercalia Festival
The most accepted theory of the development of Valentine’s Day is that it developed from the Roman festival of Lupercalia, which was thrown every February in the hope of spreading fertility and love across the empire and for the purpose of honoring the legendary founders of Rome, Romulus, and Remus, as well as Faunus, the Roman god of agriculture. Sacrifices, rituals, and traditions were done, including one that involved the names of Roman women being placed into the urn and the single men of Rome choosing one. The matches often lasted, and some even ended in marriage. Eventually, the Lupercalia Festival faced a backlash from the Christian church and wasn’t always celebrated, but around the fourteenth century, love became a central theme of the festival, and it was named in the memory of St. Valentine, who had died for love.
The United States is not the only country that celebrates Valentine’s Day. In addition to the U.S., France, Mexico, the United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia recognize the holiday. In the 17thc century, Americans began exchanging hand-made Valentines that have become so popular today, and in the 18th century, the “Mother of the Valentine”, Esther A. Howland, began to make extravagant, detailed cards. In Great Britain, people began to write cards to one another, and in 1900 printed cards became more popular. Valentine’s Day is almost the most popular holiday for the sending of cards, second only to Christmas. As Valentine’s Day became more popular, more traditions and gifts were associated with it, such as chocolates, flowers, and the image of Cupid. However, even with all the commercialization of Valentine’s Day that has developed, many Americans try to embrace the true meaning of Valentine’s Day, the reason why it was established to celebrate and embrace the love for those who are closest to them.