The Enigmatic Origins of St Valentine’s Day

Unraveling the Tapestry of Love Through Centuries

St Valentine’s Day, celebrated annually on February 14th, has become synonymous with love, affection, and the exchange of heartfelt sentiments. However, the history of this romantic holiday is shrouded in mystery, with origins dating back centuries. In this exploration, we delve into the enigmatic beginnings of St Valentine’s Day, tracing its evolution through time.

Ancient Roman Roots: Lupercalia and Love Notes

From Fertility Celebrations to Declarations of Affection

The roots of St Valentine’s Day can be traced to ancient Rome, where the festival of Lupercalia was celebrated from February 13th to 15th. This pagan festival was dedicated to Faunus, the Roman god of agriculture, and the founders of Rome, Romulus and Remus. Lupercalia was a fertility celebration involving rituals and rites, including the pairing of young men and women through a lottery.

Legend has it that during the late 3rd century, a Christian priest named Valentine defied the Roman Emperor Claudius II’s decree against marriages for young men, as he believed single men made better soldiers. Valentine continued to perform marriages in secret, leading to his eventual imprisonment and execution on February 14th. Before his death, he allegedly sent a love note to the jailer’s daughter, signed “from your Valentine,” a phrase that would later become iconic in the celebration of love.

Chaucer’s Influence: The Birth of Romantic Tradition

Love, Poetry, and the Canterbury Tales

Geoffrey Chaucer, the renowned English poet of the Middle Ages, played a pivotal role in romanticizing St Valentine’s Day. In his poem “Parliament of Fowls,” written in the 14th century, Chaucer linked the day with romantic love and the mating season of birds. This poetic association contributed to the gradual shift from the festival’s pagan and Christian origins towards a more romantic celebration.

17th Century England: The Rise of Gifting and Expressions of Love

Tokens of Affection in the Age of Shakespeare

St Valentine’s Day gained popularity in England during the 17th century, marked by the exchange of handmade cards and tokens of affection. The practice of sending love notes and gifts became more widespread, fueled by the burgeoning culture of expressing emotions through the written word. William Shakespeare, the eminent playwright of the Elizabethan era, often incorporated themes of love and romance in his works, influencing the cultural significance of Valentine’s Day.

When, in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes,
I all alone beweep my outcast state,
And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries,
And look upon myself and curse my fate,
Wishing me like to one more rich in hope,
Featured like him, like him with friends possessed,
Desiring this man’s art and that man’s scope,
With what I most enjoy contented least;
Yet in these thoughts myself almost despising,
Haply I think on thee, and then my state,
(Like to the lark at break of day arising
From sullen earth) sings hymns at heaven’s gate;
For thy sweet love remembered such wealth brings
That then I scorn to change my state with kings

Sonnet 29 – William Shakespeare

19th Century Commercialization: Mass-Produced Valentines

Printed Cards, Cupid’s Arrows, and the Birth of the Modern Valentine

The Industrial Revolution in the 19th century transformed the way Valentine’s Day was celebrated. Mass production made it possible to create intricate and beautifully designed Valentine’s cards, which became widely accessible. The iconic symbols of Cupid, hearts, and flowers became synonymous with the holiday, further solidifying its association with romantic love.

brown bear plush toy holding red rose flower
Photo by Acharaporn Kamornboonyarush on

20th Century: Valentine’s Day Goes Global

From Tradition to International Celebration

In the 20th century, St Valentine’s Day transcended its European roots and became a global celebration of love. The exchange of cards, flowers, and gifts became a common practice across continents. The commercial aspects of the holiday also expanded, with businesses capitalizing on the opportunity to market a wide range of romantic merchandise.

Contemporary Celebrations: Beyond Romantic Love

Inclusivity and Diverse Expressions of Love

In the 21st century, St Valentine’s Day has evolved to embrace diverse expressions of love. While romantic gestures continue to be central to the celebration, the holiday has expanded to include expressions of love and appreciation for friends, family, and oneself. The emphasis on inclusivity has transformed Valentine’s Day into a day of universal love and connection.

Conclusion: A Timeless Celebration of Love

From Ancient Rituals to Global Affection

St Valentine’s Day, with its rich and varied history, has endured the test of time. What began as a blend of ancient Roman traditions, Christian martyrdom, and poetic inspiration has evolved into a global celebration of love in all its forms. As we exchange cards, flowers, and tokens of affection on this special day, we contribute to a tradition that spans centuries, connecting us to the enduring power of love throughout history.