Valentine’s Day: The history of the most romantic day of the year

Many of us know Valentine’s Day as the day we express love for our significant others, our children, family and friends we hold dear. How did this expression of love come about and why did we choose February 14th as the day to bestow our love?  Not only that but also how did candy, flowers and chocolates become so popular this time of the year?

Valentine’s Day reaches as far back in history as the ancient Romans. Saint Valentine has ties to several legends. One of the legends tells a tale of a priest who went against the Roman Emperor Claudius II and performed marriages for young lovers in secret. At that time Emperor Claudius II had declared all soldiers must not have wives and families. Saint Valentine was later declared a martyr.  Another tale tells a legend of Valentine falling in love with a young girl while imprisoned. Before his death, he wrote her a letter and signed it “From your Valentine.” We still use this expression today both in our own love letters and cards. With over 151 million Valentine’s Day cards exchanged annually, this tradition has come quite far since its inception.

Tales of paganism surrounding Valentine’s Day

Going back as far as ancient Roman times you are bound to find a little paganism. Valentine’s Day is no exception. There is claim that the Catholic Church decided to recognize Saint Valentine’s feast day in the middle of February in order to convert a pagan holiday to a “Christian” holiday.  Lupercalia, a pagan fertility festival celebrated on February 15th, was dedicated to Faunus, Romulus and Remus. One of the rituals of this celebration was one which true love was not really considered. Instead, all the young women’s names within a city would be placed into an urn while eligible bachelors would then choose from in order to become married. This pagan ritual was eventually outlawed and replaced with Saint Valentine’s Day on the 14th.

But why the flowers and candy?

Current Valentine’s Day traditions seeped in slowly throughout the centuries. Flower offerings were started by the knights who would give roses to maidens whom captured their hearts. It was not until the mid-1800’s that Valentine’s Day was considered a celebration of love by most of the English-speaking world. The Victorians were enamored with the idea of showering their loved ones with affection; often putting chocolates and flowers in heart shaped boxes to give to their love.

Flowers and chocolate are a traditional gift on Valentine’s Day.
Flowers and chocolate are a traditional gift on Valentine’s Day.

Fast forward to current times and Valentine’s Day is a wide-spread celebration where many still show their love and affection to those they hold dear. Millions of roses are grown for Valentine’s Day and $1.6 billion will be spent on candy. Men, women and children participate in the rituals of this annual celebration.

While there are many stories surrounding the history of this day, no one may ever know for sure all of the details of its origins. Nonetheless, many will continue to use this day as a reason to express a little more love.

Happy Valentine’s Day!