Origins of the Valentine’s Day Holiday

Denise Rodriguez, Photographer

On February 14th, the United States celebrates Valentine’s day with candy, flowers, and gifts to spread love and appreciation to a loved one. But where do these traditions come from?

According to the Catholic Church, there were at least three saints named Valentine or Valentinus. During the third century of Rome, Emperor Claudius II decided that men made better soldiers than those with wives and families so he outlawed marriage of young men. Valentine acknowledged the unfairness of outlawing love and connections but still continued to perform marriages in secret. Claudius then discovered that Valentine was completing these tasks without his permission therefore, he ordered him to death. Others tried defending him by insisting that it was Saint Valentine of Terni. However, he too was beheaded by Claudius II.

Other stories suggest that Valentine may have been killed for attempting to help Christians escape harsh Roman prisons, where they were tortured and treated inhumane. One legend describes how an imprisoned Valentine sent his first “valentine” greeting after falling in love with a young girl. 

Even with all the legendary stories about Saint Valentine, he is known by all for being heroic, sympathetic, and a romantic figure. During the Middle Ages, he is known as one of the most popular saints in England and France.

The oldest known Valentine would be the poem written by Charles, Duke of Orleans, to his wife in the Tower of London. Years later, it is believed that King Henry V hired a writer named John Lydgate to compose a valentine note to Catherine of Valois. 

Cupid is portrayed as a naked cherub launching arrows of love at unsuspecting lovers. The Roman God Cupid has its roots in Greek mythology as the Greek God of love, Eros. Eros was a handsome immortal who played with the emotions of Gods and men, using golden arrows to incite love and leading ones to sow aversion. 

Valentine’s Day is celebrated in the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom. Later in the centuries, it was common for friends and families to give each other chocolate and exchange affectionate notes. By 1900, printed cards began to replace written letters due to improvement in technology. Cheaper postage rates also made an impact on the Valentine’s Day holiday.

Valentine’s Day today is remembered today as a cheerful pink holiday but people may not know that it ties back into the Roman Catholic church. Saint Valentine contributed to how love and affection are exchanged. February the 14th is an important day for loved ones and Saint Valentine would be appreciative of the recognition.