The Legend of St. ValentineThe history of Valentines Day--and the story of itspatron saint--is shrouded in mystery. We do knowthat February has long been celebrated as a monthof romance, and that St. Valentines Day, as weknow it today, contains vestiges of both Christianand ancient Roman tradition. But who was SaintValentine, and how did he become associated withthis ancient rite?
One legend contends that Valentinewas a priest who served during thethird century in Rome. When EmperorClaudius II decided that single menmade better soldiers than those withwives and families, he outlawedmarriage for young men. Valentine,realizing the injustice of the decree,defied Claudius and continued toperform marriages for young lovers insecret. When Valentines actions werediscovered, Claudius ordered that hebe put to death.
Other stories suggest that Valentine may have been killed forattempting to help Christians escape harsh Roman prisons, wherethey were often beaten and tortured. According to one legend, animprisoned Valentine actually sent the first "valentine" greetinghimself after he fell in love with a young girl--possibly his jailorsdaughter--who visited him during his confinement. Before hisdeath, it is alleged that he wrote her a letter signed "From yourValentine," an expression that is still in use today. Although thetruth behind the Valentine legends is murky, the stories allemphasize his appeal as a sympathetic, heroic and--mostimportantly--romantic figure. By the Middle Ages, perhaps thanksto this reputation, Valentine would become one of the mostpopular saints in England and France
Origins of Valentines Day: A Pagan Festival inFebruaryWhile some believe that Valentines Day iscelebrated in the middle of February tocommemorate the anniversary of Valentines deathor burial--which probably occurred around A.D.270--others claim that the Christian church mayhave decided to place St. Valentines feast day inthe middle of February in an effort to "Christianize"the pagan celebration of Lupercalia. Celebrated inFebruary 15, Lupercalia was a fertility festivaldedicated to Faunus, the Roman god of agriculture,as well as to the Roman founders Romulus andRemus.
Valentines Day: A Day of RomanceLupercalia survived the initial rise of Christianity and but was outlawed—as it was deemed “un- Christian”--at the end of the 5th century, when Pope Gelasius declared February 14 St. Valentines Day. It was not until much later, however, that the day became definitivelyassociated with love. During the Middle Ages, it was commonly believed in France and England that February 14 was the beginning of birds mating season, which added to the idea that the middle of Valentines Day should be a day for romance.
Typical Valentines Day GreetingsIn addition to the United States, Valentines Day iscelebrated in Canada, Mexico, the UnitedKingdom, France and Australia. In Great Britain,Valentines Day began to be popularly celebratedaround the 17th century. By the middle of the18th, it was common for friends and lovers of allsocial classes to exchange small tokens ofaffection or handwritten notes, and by 1900printed cards began to replace written letters andalso contributed to an increase in the popularityof sending Valentines Day greetings.