How did Valentine’s Day begin and why do we celebrate it?
It’s the ‘most romantic day of the year’ – but why do we all mark it with cards and flowers?
Why do we celebrate Valentine’s Day, why does it fall on February 14, and what’s with all the roses?
Here’s a look back through the history books to find out the real reasons why Valentine’s Day is what it is today – and the background casts a very different light on the event.
How did Valentine’s Day begin?
Valentine’s Day is an old tradition thought to have originated from a Roman Festival known as Lupercalia, according to History.com.
It was held on February 15th as a fertility festival dedicated to Faunus, the Roman god of agriculture.
During the celebrations boys would draw names of girls from a box and the pair would be partners during the festival. These matches often led to marriage.
The festival survived the initial rise of Christianity but was outlawed at the end of the 5th century when Pope Gelasius declared February 14th St Valentine’s Day.
Who was St Valentine?
The St Valentine that inspired the holiday may have been more than one man.
The saint officially recognised by the Roman Catholic Church was a real person who died around AD 270.
An account from 1400s describes Valentine as a priest who was beheaded by Emperor Claudius II for helping Christian couples wed.
The emperor had banned marriage as he thought single men made better soldiers. Valentine felt this was unfair so he celebrated marriages in secret. When the emperor found out he was thrown in jail and sentenced to death.
He may also have been Bishop of Terni, also martyred by Claudius II on the outskirts of Rome. There are similarities between the priest’s and bishop’s stories, which leads people to believe they are the same man.
There’s so much confusion around St Valentine that the Church stopped veneration of him in 1969 – though he is still listed as an official saint.
“Valentinus” is from the Latin word for worthy, strong or powerful, and was a popular name between the second and eighth centuries AD meaning there are several martyrs with the same name. There are actually a dozen Valentines listed and there’s even a Pope Valentine. The actual day we celebrate is known as St Valentine of Rome to set him apart.
Valentine did help marry couples in secret, which is arguably very romantic. He is the patron saint of beekeepers and epilepsy among other things..like the plague, fainting and travelling. That doesn’t stop people calling on his help for those romantically involved. He’s now also patron of engaged couples and happy marriages.
Why was St Valentine’s skull kept in Rome?
Another idea is that when he was sent to prison, he sent a letter to a young girl he had fallen in love with and signed it “From your Valentine”.
It’s thought this was the first ever Valentine’s Day greeting.
Why is it celebrated on February 14?
Some believe that Valentine’s Day’s is celebrated mid-February to mark the anniversary of St Valentine’s death.
It’s thought to have happened in the middle of the month around 270 AD.
Others maintain that the Christian church decided to place St Valentine’s feast day at this time of the year in an effort to ‘Christianise’ the pagan festival of Lupercalia.
Why are roses associated with the day?
Roses have been the symbol of love since the early 1700s when Charles II of Sweden brought the Persian poetical art known as the “language of flowers” to Europe.
Throughout the 18th century, ladies loved their floral dictionaries, which listed the symbolic meanings of different flowers, according to YourTango.com.
The red rose was believed to be the flower favoured by Venus, the Roman Goddess of Love, and has therefore come to represent that.
Cupid is the god of desire, erotic love, affection and attraction. He is the son of Venus, goddess of love, and war god Mars. Cupid in Latin is ‘amor’, which means love.
How did Valentine’s Day become commercial?
It wasn’t until the 18th century that Valentine’s Day took off in England. Lovers began to send trinkets, cards and flowers to their loved ones. A huge amount of printed cards would get sold, then in 1913 Hallmark Cards in Kansas City began mass producing specific Valentine’s Day cards. Now about a billion cards are sold every year and it’s the second biggest card sending time of the whole year.
Why do we sign Valentine’s Day cards anonymously?
Apart from the embarrassment, there was an actual tradition started by the Victorians. They thought it was bad luck to sign the cards with their actual names. It was also the Victorians that sent roses as they were Venus’ favourite flower.