St. Valentine: A history of the holiday




A few months ago I was looking through old family photos and letters that I had found in my cousin’s barn. These torn and yellowed pieces of history were last looked at 60 years ago when they had been put into storage. The letters were something that caught my eye. My Aunt Ev had saved every single Valentine’s Day card that my Uncle Bert had sent to her through the years. These elaborate cards were from another time, and they told the story of a love-filled relationship that had lasted a lifetime.

Since that day I have often wondered why we celebrate love and friendships on this one day in particular.

To many, Valentine’s Day is the most romantic day of the year. Flowers, cards, and gifts are delivered to many. But, as far as the actual origin of the day, the meaning goes back further then one would expect.

In around 498 A.D. Pope Gelasius declared February 14th as St. Valentine’s Day. However, to this day there is still some questionability to who Saint Valentine really was. This is due to the fact that there were three saints named Valentine and they were all suppose to have been martyred. One of these saints was a priest in Rome and he is generally accepted as the one the day is suppose to commemorate.

Saint Valentine had secretly done marriage ceremonies for Roman soldiers, who had been outlawed from getting married. Now, as one could imagine, this greatly angered Roman Emperor Claudius II, who had made the law. Saint Valentine supposedly went on to try to convert Claudius to Christianity. This angered the emperor even further to the point that he ordered Valentine to be put to death.

There is a romantic part to the Saint Valentine story. The story goes that while in prison Valentine fell in love with a young girl (who happened to be the prison guard’s daughter). Before he was put to death, he allegedly wrote a letter to his love, which he affectionately signed “From your Valentine”. Hence, this is where this famous expression comes from. In the end, Saint Valentine would not give up his faith in God and this would cost him his life. Valentine was executed on February 14, 270 A.D.

As the years passed the holiday began to gain some popularity. It is interesting to note that Charles, the Duke of Orleans wrote to his wife what is considered the oldest Valentine’s Day poem. By the 1840s the first Valentine’s cards were created. Now, the holiday is celebrated around the world

There are many love stories one can read about Valentine’s Day and there are many versions of the Saint Valentine story. But, regardless of which you read, the theme of celebrating relationships is central to the story. As we celebrate another Valentine’s Day, let us remember the meaning of the day and why it has become a very important part of our culture.


Sources: Huffington Post, The Holiday Spot

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