Where Does Valentine’s Day Come From?

By Judy Jak-Klein

Valentine’s day is today known as the worldwide celebration of love and romance. It often involves a nice dinner, chocolate, gifts, and other romantic gestures to show love to one another. But why did this day become the celebration of love? And when did these romantic traditions start?

Although Valentine’s day shares its name with a Christian saint, it’s believed that the February day of love actually originates from the Pagan festival of Lupercalia. The celebration, dedicated to Faunus the Roman god of agriculture, involved women being smeared with goat’s blood (hence the red) to become more fertile. The women’s names would then be put in an urn to be drawn by a male bachelor who would then be paired with the woman whose name he pulled.

Lupercalia is said to have been a violent and sexually charged celebration that involved animal sacrifice and random coupling in an attempt to ward off evil spirits and infertility. In other words, absolutely nothing like the romantic celebration we know today.

However, when Christianity started to roam all over the world, they outlawed Pagan festivals because they were deemed anti-Christian. Instead, they declared the 14th of February as the celebration of St. Valentine.

There are many different legends relating to love that can be connected to St. Valentine. One legend stated that St. Valentine was a priest in third-century Rome who defied the orders of King-Emperor Claudius II.

The King thought that unmarried men performed better in war than married men, so he banned marriage. Valentine, however, continued to marry young couples in secret which resulted in his execution, taking place on the 14th of February. That’s someone believing in true love, don’t you think?

Yet, Valentine’s Day didn’t become popular until the 17th century, starting in America and later in the UK. The romanticism behind the holiday may have started in the Middle Ages, as it was commonly thought that the 14th of February was the start of a bird’s mating season which added to the idea that this day is centered around romance.

Although the traditions of sending valentines cards got popular during that period, the first Valentine’s Day card dates back to the year 1415, according to Thaddeus Morgan.

Charles the Duke of Orléans wrote a letter to his wife, Bonne of Armagnac, while he was in prison after his capture during the battle of Agincourt that took place between England and France. In his letter he wrote a love poem to her, referring to his wife as his ‘valentine.’

Morgan’s article emphasizes that because of the dire circumstances the letter was written, the poem itself was quite grim. This is no surprise, since who would like to be trapped in prison than with their love?  

The tradition of giving chocolate was developed in the 18th century since chocolate was a luxurious commodity at the time. Stephanie Butlers emphasizes that the first Valentine’s Day chocolate box was created by none other than Richard Cadbury, the founder of the Cadbury chocolate company.

Butler explains that Cadbury marketed these boxes to have a dual meaning. When one finishes the chocolate they could then use the boxes to decorate for the romantic holiday.

Today, these traditions have become central in the celebration of the romantic holiday we know today, as there are few that think about Valentine’s without thinking about letters and chocolate.

According to IOPS statistics from 2022, giving chocolate on valentine’s day is one of the top three things people do during the day of romance.

Understanding the origins and meanings behind Valentine’s Day might make the holiday more special when celebrating it.