The Unexpected History of Valentine’s Day

Photo Credit: Walker Art Gallery

Horsley, John Callcott; The Morning of St Valentine; Walker Art Gallery;

Hannah Yacob

Every year on February 14th Valentine’s Day is celebrated. It serves as a day for people to show gratitude and love for their significant others, friends, and family. More often than not this love is shown with treats such as candies and desserts, flowers, and cards along with other sweet gifts. However, this holiday did not start out this way and actually has ancient Roman origins.

One of the stories believed about the origins of Valentine’s Day is about Saint Valentine, a priest in ancient Rome who officiated weddings. The emperor at the time, Claudius II, outlawed marriage for young men in order to make sure they were eligible to serve in the military. Saint Valentine continued to marry young people in secret and was caught. This highly romantic feat about forbidden love led to Valentine’s execution. Some believe that the date February 14th was chosen because it was the Saint’s death date.

Another tale about a Saint Valentine says he was jailed as a result of marrying Christians or trying to help Christians escape Roman prisons. Practicing Christianity would have been illegal at the time so this was a highly punishable offense. Before being executed, it is said Valentine wrote a letter to his lover and signed it “Your Valentine”, which explains the common phrase used today.

The multiple Saint Valentines were martyred figures who led to the now annually celebrated “Feast of Saint Valentine” known as Valentine’s Day. Over time this day has become widely celebrated as a romantic holiday and synonymous with symbols such as hearts, Cupid, and the colors pink and red. The Anglican Communion and Lutheran Church celebrate the day with a feast. In the middle of February, the holiday adds warmth and joy to the otherwise bleak and coldest month of the year.