The Origin of Valentine’s Day: How It Came to Be the Holiday of Love

A Valentine's Day wish.

Most people think of love when they hear about Valentine’s Day, but not a lot of people know how Valentine’s Day came to be. (Image: Splank via Dreamstime)

Ever wondered how Valentine’s Day started? Or how it came to be the holiday that represents love? All your answers are here, along with the history of how the holiday of romance came to be.

Most people think of love when they hear about Valentine’s Day, but not a lot of people know how Valentine’s Day came to be.

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Some people still argue that it is a Christian holiday by St. Valentine, while others say it was a pagan practice that has long existed.

If you’re still confused about this holiday’s truth, this article is designed to explain the history behind the beloved holiday of romance.

The pagan past

Going back to ancient Rome, the pagans had a holiday called Lupercalia, which involved the sacrificed dogs and goats at the cave of the founders of Rome, Romulus and Remus. The ceremony later cut the animal hides into strips to slap women and bless them with fertility.

After this initial part of the ceremony, there would be compulsory matchmaking where eligible bachelors would draw women’s names.

Catholic Pope Gelasius frowned upon this dark past during the 5th century’s end. The Pope replaced the popular holiday with a more Christian alternative.

'Saint Valentine Baptizing Saint Lucilla' by Jacopo Bassano.
‘Saint Valentine Baptizing Saint Lucilla’ by Jacopo Bassano. (Image: Public Domain)

The Christian foundation

The Pope then decided to replace Lupercalia with St. Valentine’s Day, or now Valentine’s Day. This festival celebrated a Roman saint and martyr from the 3rd century named Valentine of Rome.

There is still a lot that remains a mystery as to the origins and life of St. Valentine, but as legends say, he lived during Emperor Claudius II’s reign. This Roman emperor persecuted Christians, and St. Valentine was one of them.

Eventually, the Emperor ordered the execution of St. Valentine after he rejected sacrifice to the pagan gods. However, St. Valentine was known to commit a miracle while in jail and reportedly healed the blindness of the jailer’s daughter.

Before eventually being beheaded, a note was left for the jailer’s daughter with the sign “Your Valentine.”

Although the accuracy of this story is hard to verify, documents reveal the existence of a St. Valentine who stood firm for his Christian faith at a time of persecution.

How it became romantic

The British and French believed the birds’ mating season would occur in mid-February. This was during the Middle Ages, and because it was mating season, this period became synonymous with romance.

Later, a British poet named Geoffrey Chaucer wrote a poem in 1375 called “Parliament of Foules,” which he called February 14 Seynt Valentine’s Day while referring to the mating of birds.

This was when things were tied together, and the holiday became closely referenced as a time of love. Later, another popular figure decided to give more meaning to Valentine’s Day.

Shakespeare mentioned Valentine’s Day in two of his most popular works, Hamlet and A Midsummer Night’s Dream. This made the holiday even more popular as a time for romance.

A greeting card on Valentine's Day.
A Valentine’s Day greeting card dated 1909. (Image: via Public Domain)

Valentine’s Day in America

A few centuries later, Esther Howland brought Valentine’s Day to America. Howland sold Valentine’s Day greeting cards in the 1800s. These fancy cards became a way that people could express their romantic intentions to their significant other.

It also became a way for them to express affection for another person as these cards slowly started catching on annually.

The popularity of these cards and the romantic holiday grew in 1913 as the card-maker Hallmark decided to mass-produce them. Valentine’s Day became popular in the commercial space, with jewelry and other gifts synonymous with love becoming an annual celebration.

The celebration of Valentine’s Day

Now, Valentine’s Day is a popular holiday where people have a chance to express their love for their significant other. As the holiday happens once a year, some people consider it an opportunity to go all out and do something out of the ordinary.

Whether you believe the true origin of Valentine’s Day to be the pagan festival, you can appreciate its evolution over the years, from references in poetry to how this festive embodies love, appreciation, and romance.

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