The Origin of Valentine’s Day

Candy HeartsIf we are to judge from the media attention it receives, Valentine’s Day is a major holiday. My main memories of Valentine’s Day are from my grade school valentine exchange. The teacher had all of us bring a shoe box, cut a slot in the top, and decorate it. Then on Valentine’s Day we were supposed to bring little punch-out Valentine’s Day cards for each of our classmates and put them in their boxes. Some students also included little candy hearts. I’m not sure how much the students enjoyed this activity, considering we were at the age at which all girls had “cooties.” Picture a bunch of pre-pubescent boys forced to give all the girls a heart-shaped card that said “Be My Valentine!” and you get the picture. Some of them were probably traumatized for life.

It makes me wonder where this custom came from. Is it really about love, or is it a marketing ploy by Hallmark and your local florist and jewelers? There is a good introduction to the history of Valentine’s Day from Focus on the Family in The Pastor’s Weekly Briefing. I will quote it here for your benefit:

Saint Valentine’s Day, or simply Valentine’s Day, which falls on February 14, has become the traditional day every year when expressions of love are made using cards, candy or flowers. The Greeting Card Association estimates that approximately one billion valentines will be exchanged worldwide, making it the most popular holiday except for Christmas when over two and a half billion cards are sent.

Many legends have developed over the years as to the origin of Valentine’s Day, but most agree that it refers to a man named Valentinus who was martyred in the late third century during the reign of Claudius II. According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, three men with the name Valentinus, which was common at that time, were martyred between 269 and 273 AD. Two of the most popular legends that have endured come from the 15th Century. One claims that on the night before Valentine was to be martyred for being a Christian, he passed a love note to his jailer’s daughter that read, “From your Valentine.” Another states that during a ban on marriages of Roman soldiers by the Emperor Claudius II, St. Valentine secretly helped arrange marriages. Claudius felt that in order to create a perfect army, soldiers should not have to deal with the distractions of marriage. Valentine believed that men who were about to face danger and possible death could only exhibit the required bravery if they were sent off to battle with the love of a wife.

Another theory — regarding the observance of Valentine’s Day on February 14 — is that it is the Church’s response to the ancient Roman fertility festival of Lupercalia on February 15. In the fifth century, Pope Gelasius abolished Lupercalia and declared that the feast of St. Valentine would be on February 14.

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