Many of us celebrate Valentine’s Day as a day of love and showing affection to our loved ones. It is celebrated every year on February 14th. However, St. Valentine’s Day is actually the feast day of St. Valentine. The annual holiday honours various saints named Valentine. In spite of this, there are many different stories about how the origin of St. Valentine’s Day came to be a day of love and romance.
It all may have begun with the ancient Roman festival of Lupercalia. This was a pagan festival celebrating fertility. Goats would have been sacrificed and then their skins cut and fashioned into whips. The men would run through the city whipping the crowds who had gathered. The men would also strike women and young girls who wished to conceive. They believed being whipped would help ensure fertility, eliminate the risk of sterility and would ease the pain of childbirth.
This festival was said to have been celebrated between February 13th and 15th. Pope Gelasius I abolished Lupercalia deeming the celebrations ‘un-Christian’ around 496 AD. He declared February 14th St. Valentine’s Day after two martyrs by the name of Valentine. These men were both executed on February 14th but in different years. It is easy to make the connection between Lupercalia and the Valentine’s Day as a romantic celebration. Even though Lupercalia is hardly the day of love and romance, the fact it was a festival to boost fertility leads experts to assume there are links.
Who is St. Valentine?
There are several martyrdom stories attached to the different Valentines connected to February 14th. The most popular hagiographical account connected to this day is the story of Saint Valentine of Rome. He was a priest in the 3rd century. According to legend, Emperor Claudius II banned his soldiers from getting married. This is because he believed married men made terrible soldiers. However, Valentine was opposed to this and continued to perform marriages for soldiers in secret. Unfortunately, he was caught, and as a result of his actions was jailed and sentenced to death. While he was imprisoned he fell in love with the jailer’s daughter. On the eve of his execution, he sent a letter to the jailer’s daughter signed ‘from your Valentine’.
The first connection between love and St. Valentine’s Day
There are many theories as to how St. Valentine’s Day became the day that we know and celebrate. However in 1381, the Geoffrey Chaucer poem ‘Parlement of Foules’ may have been the first documented reference associated with love and Valentine’s Day. Scholars believe the poem was written in honour of the courtship and marriage of Richard II and Anne of Bohemia. Due to this the poem is said to be the first known connection between love and Valentine’s Day.
“For this was on seynt Volantynys day
Whan euery bryd comyth there to chese his make.”
[” For this was on St. Valentine’s Day, when every bird cometh there to choose his mate.”]
Chaucer used the rural English belief that birds find their love on Valentine’s Day. Some may argue that it is unlikely that birds would have begun mating in mid-February in England. However, in Chaucer’s time, the Julian calendar would have been used meaning February 14th would have fallen on what would now be February 23rd. It is frequently argued how Valentine’s Day came to be a day of love and affection. There will always be many different versions of how it started and scholars will argue the real origin. Valentine’s Day seems to be quite mysterious as there is no real documented origin of how the day became to be about love.
Valentine’s Day in Popular Literature
Ever since Chaucer’s poem, there have been numerous mentions of Valentine’s Day in popular literature. Like Chaucer, John Donne also used the marriage of birds as a starting point for his epithalamium. It was written to celebrate the marriage between Lady Elizabeth and Frederick V. Count of Palatinate. The two married on Valentine’s Day. In the William Shakespeare play Hamlet, which was written around 1600-1601, the character Ophelia spoke of Saint Valentine’s Day: –
“To-morrow is Saint Valentine’s day
All in the morning betime
And I a maid at your window
To be your Valentine…”
The character sings of her courtship of a man on the eve of Valentine’s Day. Shakespeare wrote many sonnets and poems about love. Even though he may not be speaking of Valentine’s Day directly, people will often use his work to express their love.
There is one type of poem which is synonymous with Valentine’s Day. Since the 18th Century, the popular ‘Roses are red, Violets are blue…’ poems have been used as Valentine’s Day greetings. The most popular modern version of this is “Roses are Red, Violets are blue, Sugar is sweet, And so are you.” Since it was first used as a greeting there have been many variations and even satirical versions of the poem. However, the poem can be sourced back to Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queene written in 1590.
Valentine’s Day Cards
It was estimated that around £1.6 Billion was spent on Valentine’s Day cards last year. The earliest surviving Valentine’s Day greeting dates back to the 15th Century. The Duke of Orleans wrote the letter to his wife while imprisoned in the Tower of London calling his wife his Valentine.
“Je suis desja d’amour tanné
Ma tres doulce Valentinée”
[This translates roughly to, “I am already sick of love, my very gentle Valentine”.]
The sending of Valentine’s Day greetings became more popular during the 18th century. However, unlike the cards we see today, these cards were often handmade and decorated with romantic symbols. This began with a British publisher issuing ‘The Young Man’s Valentine Writer’. The book contained sentimental verses for those who cannot express their own love. These verses were then printed with sketches and called ‘mechanical valentines’. It was not until the early 19th century that the manufacturing of Valentine’s Day cards became industrialised. Due to this, the tradition of sending cards to loved ones became an annual thing.
In today’s world Valentine’s Day is a day to show your loved ones affection. Therefore people will often use Valentine’s Day to spoil their significant others. When choosing a gift for your loved one, it can often be hard to find the right gift. If you are looking for something a little different for your loved one, we offer a range of gifts which will make brilliant Valentine’s Day gifts. Click here to find your perfect gift.