A love to be honored: The origins of Valentine’s Day

Chelsea Mancilla, Guest Writer


Valentine’s Day has become a well-recognized holiday across the world, but this love-inspiring holiday does not have the most romantic origin. Ancient sources reveal that there were several St. Valentines who died on the 14th of February. Two of them were executed during the reign of Roman Emperor Claudius Gothicus 269-270 A.D, a time when persecution of Christians was common.

One legend contends that Valentine was a priest who served in Rome during the third century. When Emperor Claudius II decided that single men made better soldiers than those with wives and families, he outlawed marriage for young men. Valentine, realizing the injustice of the decree, deified Claudius and continued to perform marriages for young lovers in secret. When Valentine’s actions were discovered, Claudius ordered for his execution.
The history of Valentine’s Day is obscure, and further clouded by various fanciful legends. The holiday’s roots are in the ancient Roman festival of Lupercalia, a fertility celebration commemorated annually on Feb. 15. Pope Gelasius I recast this pagan festival as a Christian feast day circa 496, declaring Feb. 14 to be St. Valentine’s Day.

During the Middle Ages, it was commonly believed in France and England that Feb. 14 was the beginning of birds’ mating season, which added to the idea that Valentine’s Day should be a day for romance. According to UCLA medieval scholar, Henry Ansgar Kelly, author of “Chaucer and the Cult of Saint Valentine,” it was the poet, Geoffrey Chaucer, who first linked St. Valentine’s Day with romance. In 1381, Chaucer composed a poem in honor of the engagement between England’s Richard II and Anne of Bohemia. And by Shakespeare’s time—“To-morrow is Saint Valentine’s day, all in the morning betime, and I, a maid at your window, to be your Valentine”—the romantic version of Valentine’s Day that we all know had become popular throughout almost all of Europe.

Over the centuries, the holiday evolved, and by the 18th century, gift-giving and exchanging handmade cards on Valentine’s Day had become common in England. It wasn’t until the 1850s that the tradition of Valentine’s cards became widespread in the United States, when Esther A. Howland, a Mount Holyoke graduate and native of Worcester, Mass., began mass-producing them. Then, when the industrial revolution began in the U.S., Valentine’s Day went from being a small-time, historical day of romance to a full-blown money tree. The new age of machinery ushered in mass-produced, factory-made cards one could easily purchase and pass off to those they cared for on special occasions. Today, the holiday has become a booming commercial success. According to the Greeting Card Association, 25 percent of all cards sent each year are valentines. Grade school children are encouraged to buy or make Valentine cards for their classmates. Whether you are celebrating this holiday with a romantic dinner, or a box of a chocolates, remember that when it comes to love, the most important part is the thought behind it. For those who may practice anti-Valentine’s Day, we should remember that love does not have to be romantic. We can show our friends and family that we care for them too.


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