Valentine’s Day history does not revolve around it being a commercial holiday created by corporations to make money from special Valentine’s Day gifts. The day has a well-documented and colorful history going back several hundred years, with roots in pagan tradition, myth and Christian liturgy.

Valentine’s day origins

couple on sunsetFor thousands of years, the middle of February has been a time for fertility festival celebrations, with flowers symbolizing fertility, love, marriage, and romance. The most popular account of the Valentine’s Day origin dates back to a Roman priest named Valentine, who was beheaded on February 14, 270 AD on the orders of Emperor Claudius II for defying orders by performing illegal marriage ceremonies on the battlefield in secret. The story told is that Emperor Claudius believed that single men made better soldiers, so he made it illegal for soldiers to wed. The night before his execution, Valentine wrote a hand written card to the daughter of his jailer and signed it off with ‘from your Valentine’. This may be the first romantic Valentine’s day card, though in unusual circumstances. This is just one of the stories that have been passed down regarding Valentine’s day history, though there are many variations. The holiday’s roots have been suggested as being in the ancient Roman festival of Lupercalia, a fertility festival celebrated on February 15, dedicated to Faunus, the Roman god of agriculture, as well as to the Roman founders Romulus and Remus. The first Valentine’s day was in 496 AD when Pope Gelasius I recast this pagan festival as a Christian feast day, declaring February 14 to be St. Valentine’s Day. Which St. Valentine this early pope intended to honor remains a mystery. The Catholic Encyclopedia, lists three early Christian saints named Valentine who are all stated to have been martyred on Feb. 14. In 1969, the Catholic Church removed the feast days of saints whose historical origins were questionable, including St. Valentine.

Valentine’s day origin of romantic love

purple matched setIn the fourteenth century, Valentine’s Day was first associated with romantic love in the work of the English writer Geoffrey Chaucer in his poem “Parliament of Foules” written in1381, the poem was in honor of the engagement between England’s Richard II and Anne of Bohemia. A line from the poem reads “For this was on St. Valentine’s Day, When every fowl cometh there to choose his mate.” this refers to the commonly held belief in England and France that February 14 was the beginning of birds’ mating season. Over the centuries the holiday evolved, and by the eighteenth century, gift-giving and the exchanging of handmade cards on Valentine’s Day had become common in England. Hand-made valentine cards made of lace, ribbons, and featuring cupids and hearts eventually spread to the American colonies. Handwritten Valentine’s Day notes were the tradition until 1847 when in the US Esther A. Howland started to mass produce creative Valentine’s cards from ribbons, paper and lace.

Valentine’s Day presents

Today, Valentine’s cards and Valentine’s day presents are big business with the three most popular gifts being flowers, cards and chocolate. Valentine’s Day flowers began as a tradition in the seventeenth century, since red roses are symbolic of love and passion they became the most popular flower. Most flowers are symbolic and there are many other flowers that also represent love, romance, respect and beauty. The oldest known Valentine’s Day card still in existence today is a poem written in 1415 by Charles, Duke of Orleans, to his wife while he was imprisoned in the Tower of London following his capture at the Battle of Agincourt. By the sixteenth century, cards had become so common on Valentine’s Day that several religious leaders preached against them. By the early nineteenth century, the ability to send cards through the mail greatly increased the exposure of Valentine Day’s cards. Chocolate became popular for the rich in the seventeenth century when Spanish explorers brought chocolate back from the new world. Over time, the popularity of chocolate increased in Europe, possibly for its aphrodisiac effects, and has become the modern day candy of choice for a Valentine’s Day gift.

Valentine’s day dates worldwide

finger on fingerInternationally, Valentine’s Day falls on different dates. In Brazil, “Lovers’ Day” is celebrated on June 12. In Colombia, “Secret friend” is celebrated on the third Saturday in September. The “Chinese Valentine’s Day” is the Qixi Festival, celebrated on the seventh day of the seventh month of the lunar calendar. In Israel, the Tu B’Av has been revived and transformed into the Jewish equivalent of Valentine’s Day, being celebrated usually in late August. In Japan and Korea, it is only the women that give gifts on February 14 with March 14 a “reply day”, where men are expected to return the favour to those who gave them chocolates on Valentine’s Day.

Where Valentine’s day is not culturally accepted

Valentine’s day is not culturally acceptable in India, Saudi Arabai (non-muslims can only celebrate behind closed doors) and Malaysia. Peshwar in Pakistan banned the celebration of Valentine’s Day in 2016 and other cities are likely to follow suit.