Historians can’t establish the exact origin but do trace how traditions have evolved over the years. The beginnings of Valentine’s Day are not the stuff of romantic plots. The origin is, in fact, a bit bloody.
According to History.com, the holiday’s origin might predate Christianity with the ancient pagan festival of Lupercalia and the Roman festival celebrated in the middle of February that included feasting and pairing off partners.
Lupercalia was filled with debauchery, blood, and sacrifice. The hide of a sacrificed goat would be cut into strips, dipped in blood, and slapped around women. It was believed the ritual would make the women more fertile in the coming year.
Lupercalia was eventually outlawed in the 5th century when Pope Gelasius declared February 14 as St. Valentine’s Day.
The Romans pagan celebrations ended when they embraced Christianity, and their holiday evolved into one honoring St. Valentine.
Who was Saint Valentine?
The most accepted account of St. Valentine says he was a priest arrested for defying a Roman decree that forbade soldiers from marrying and executed when he continued to wed lovers in secret. Problem is, according to NPR, Emperor Claudius II of Rome executed two different men named Valentine on February 14 (in two different years),
History.com contends St. Valentine was an imprisoned priest who fell in love with one of his visitors and wrote letters to her signing off with “From your Valentine.”
Both accounts have romantic undertones unfortunately neither can be officially verified.
Add the fact that the Catholic church recognizes multiple priests named Valentine and all we can say for sure is Valentine’s Day was named for a martyred priest.
From honoring a priest to current traditions
Jack B. Oruch says our modern-day traditions are thanks to the 14th-century English poet Geoffrey Chaucer.
An English professor Oruch concluded that Chaucer was the first to associate St Valentine with romantic love. Before Chaucer’s “The Parlement of Foules” and “The Complaint of Mars” there was no significant written record linking romantic tradition to St. Valentine’s Day.
By the mid-18th century, giving small tokens and handmade notes to friends and lovers on Valentine’s Day became common practice.
The 19th-century Industrial Revolution enabled printed Valentine’s Day cards.
Then in 1913, Hallmark Cards began mass-producing Valentines and the rest is history.