As we approach Valentine’s Day, a day of sharing and promoting love, many things come to mind — romance, dates, chocolate…
But perhaps there’s more to this holiday than just sweets and department store knickknacks.
Looking at the history, there are many myths, but Valentine’s Day is thought to have ancient Christian and Roman origins. Rather than there being one definitive ancient source or individual, historians say that there were several saints who bore the name “Valentine.” One popular story in particular says that there was a priest named Valentine from the third century who married people behind the backs of the authorities. He was arrested and kept in a noble’s home (who was his detainer). This detainer had a blind daughter, who Valentine healed during his captivity there. Upon seeing their daughter healed, the family converted to Christianity. The account says that Valentine was then sentenced to death through torturing and beheading, as mandated by authorities. Before his death, which would take place on the fourteenth of February, he wrote the formerly blind daughter a note which he signed, “Your Valentine.”
Another very similar account claims the Bishop of Terni from the same period was the original Saint Valentine, but historians still maintain that the holiday’s ancient origins are questionable. Some associate Valentine’s Day with Lupercalia — an ancient Roman holiday celebrated on the fifteenth of February. Yet due to the details surrounding the tradition, there is once again little concrete support for a legitimate connection to what we see in modern times. Lupercalia was celebrated to chase away evil spirits and increase health and fertility. Practically naked men would hit people with whip-like goat skin, which some women believed would cause or increase chances of conceiving.
What we know for sure is that Geoffrey Chaucer, an English poet from the fourteenth century, had a lot to do with Valentine’s Day as we know it. In his Parliament of Fowls, he wrote the line, “For this was on Saint Valentine’s Day, when every bird comes there to choose his mate.” During that period, romance was celebrated in Europe among the aristocracy. By the next century, aristocrats inspired by Chaucer began writing “valentines” to their loves.
Perhaps there still remain questions about the original Saint Valentine, but what can’t be denied is that both the ancient and more traceable accounts in question all surround the concept of love. In the United States, sharing sweets like chocolate, candy (Wonka sweet tart hearts for example), and stuffed animals is a common custom among friends and family alike. Students in (especially primary school) do arts and crafts and can be seen leaving school with Valentine’s Day hats and other creations. And of course, couples go out on dates and make special plans to recognize their love for one another.