The History of Valentine’s Day, and Why It’s Still Not Over

Updated: Mar 17

Valentine’s Day, a holiday that celebrates Romance and your appreciation for those closest to you, dates back to the ancient Roman festival of Lupercalia, which lasted from February 13 to February 15. It marked the coming of Spring and fertility through the purification of the city, and a tradition of the festival was the pairing of women and men by lottery.

In the 5th century, in an attempt to Christianize the festival, the Catholic Church under Pope Gelasius I declared February 14 the Feast of Saint Valentine in honor of the Martyr. Since then, the holiday has become commercialized and is widely celebrated around the world.

St. Valentine was a priest in 3 century A.D. Against the law instated by Emperor Claudius II, which had banned marriages, St. Valentine, who believed this law was unfair, went on to officiate weddings in secret.

When Claudius II discovered what St. Valentine had been doing, he sentenced him to death, and St. Valentine was jailed. Imprisoned, St.Valentine fell in love with his jailer's daughter. Before his execution, on Feb. 14, 270 A.D., he wrote a letter to his love signing “from your Valentine.”

The day has been celebrated as a day of romance since the 14th century when English poet Geoffrey Chaucer referred to “Seynt Valentynes day” as a day “whan every foul cometh there to chese his make” (when birds come to choose their mates) in his 1375 poem “The Parliament of Fowls.”

Notable poets followed his lead and began to use the Feast of St. Valentine for romantic purposes. By the middle of the 18th century, it was common for friends and couples of all social classes to exchange small tokens of affection or handwritten notes. By 1900, printed cards began to replace written letters due to improvements in printing technology.

In addition to the United States, Valentine’s Day is celebrated in Canada, Mexico, the United Kingdom, France, Australia, and many more countries worldwide as individuals show adoration for those they love most. Many people give greeting cards, chocolates, jewelry, or flowers, particularly roses, to their partners or admirers on Valentine’s Day. Every country has different traditions.

In Norfolk, a character called 'Jack' Valentine knocks on the houses’ rear door, leaving sweets and presents for children. In Denmark, where Valentine's Day is a relatively new holiday (celebrated since the early 1990s), friends and couples exchange pressed white flowers called snowdrops rather than exchanging roses.

In South Africa, it is customary for women to wear their hearts on their sleeves. Women pin the names of their love interest on their shirts’ sleeves, rooted in an ancient Roman tradition during Lupercalia.

Valentine’s Day is the one day a year where the whole world comes together to celebrate love. This year it’s important to celebrate such a beautiful holiday safely. If you have yet to celebrate the holiday, you can still do some things with your loved ones.

For example, you can have a virtual date and stream a movie. Or you can go on an outdoor picnic to minimize public exposure. You can also send someone a gift, a handwritten card, or a special delivery to reduce contact.