The True (and Somewhat Strange) History of Valentine's Day
Valentine’s Day is Sunday, February 14! Do you know the real story behind Valentine’s Day? This ancient marking of agricultural and human fertility has a surprising history. Discover the meaning of Valentine’s Day, why it’s celebrated on February 14, some fun ideas, and a poem to add to that (secret?) Valentine card.
When Is Valentine’s Day?
Valentine’s Day occurs annually on February 14. In 2021, it will be celebrated on Sunday, February 14.
|2021||Sunday, February 14|
|2022||Monday, February 14|
|2023||Tuesday, February 14|
|2024||Wednesday, February 14|
Where Did Valentine’s Day Come From?
Valentine’s Day has its origins as an ancient agriculture and human fertility festival. From February 13 to 15, the Romans celebrated the feast of Lupercalia.
Lupercalia was a fertility festival in honor of Lupa, the wolf who was said to have suckled Romulus and Remus (whom founded the city of Rome in 753 B.C., according to legend). This festival was also dedicated to Faunus, the Roman god of agriculture. This was the season to start sowing seeds and to hope for a fertile year of crops.
The link between the Lupercalia, fertility, and romance is evident in the festivities that occurred during the celebrations. The Roman festival involved drunk young men running through the streets naked, women being smeared in animal blood, and unusual fertility rites. Ever heard the dating phrase, “being hit on”? In this case, men literally hit on women by whipping them with the hides of the animals they had just sacrificed.
Apparently, many women were willing participants, lining up for the festival, believing this would make them fertile. Young men also drew the names of women from a jar. The couple would lie together during the festival, in an effort to conceive.
When the Roman Empire became Christian, it evolved into a “Christianized” form of the festival of Lupercalia. The church honored St. Valentine—who was martyred at this time. However, much of the marriage and fertility traditions from the old ways persisted.
Who Was St. Valentine?
Emperor Claudius II executed two priests—both named Valentine—on Februrary 14 of different years in the 3rd century A.D.
Although not much of St. Valentine’s life is reliably known, and whether or not the stories involve two different saints by the same name is also not officially decided, one of the St. Valentines was martyred and then buried on the Via Flaminia to the north of Rome. Archaeologists have unearthed a Roman catacomb and an ancient church dedicated to St. Valentine.
As legend goes, the Emperor Claudius II prohibited soldiers to marriage. However, Valentine defied the orders and secretly married young couples to spare husbands from war. Valentine was imprisoned, tortured and beheaded. According to another legend, St. Valentine signed a letter “from your Valentine” to his jailer’s daughter, whom he had befriended and healed from blindness.
In 496 A.D. Pope Gelasius marked February 14 as day to honor their martyrdom and celebration of St. Valentine’s Day was born.
In 1969, the Roman Catholic Church removed St. Valentine from the General Roman Calendar because of the lack of reliable information about him.
However, the church still recognizes St. Valentine is a saint. He is the Patron Saint of affianced couples, bee keepers, engaged couples, happy marriages, love, lovers, and young people. He is represented in pictures with birds and roses and his feast day is celebrated on February 14.
The more romantic nature of Valentine’s Day was also celebrated in the Middle Ages, when it was believed that birds paired couples in mid-February. Chaucer and Shakespeare romanticized this day of love in their work, and it gained popularity throughout Britain and the rest of Europe. Handmade paper cards were even exchanged in the Middle Ages.
History of the “Valentine” Card
By the early 1600s, handmade Valentine’s Day cards were customarily sent from admirers to sweethearts. Around the year 1800, the first commercial cards appeared. Cards were usually sent anonymously.
As early as 1822, an English official reported having to hire extra postal workers on this Valentine’s Day. In 1849, Esther Howland of Worcester, Massachusetts, started selling quality valentines so popular that she was called “Mother of the American Valentine.”
The industrial revolution ushered in factory-made cards. And in 1913, Hallmark Cards of Kansas City, Mo., began mass producing valentines and it’s been popular card-giving (and chocolate-indulging!) holiday ever since.
Valentine’s Day Poetry and Quotes
For the young and young at heart, it’s fun to make Valentine’s Day cards to send anonymously to a neighbor, someone in the nursing home, a good friend, or a family member! Gather up some vintage postcards, colorful paper, feathers, or whatever you have on hand. Put a big “?” on the inside and see if your recipient guesses their “secret admirer.”
Or, here’s how to make a homemade card using a potato! (Spud-tacular!)
One Hundred Love Sonnets: XVII
By Pablo Neruda
I don’t love you as if you were a rose of salt, topaz,
or arrow of carnations that propagate fire:
I love you as one loves certain obscure things,
secretly, between the shadow and the soul.
I love you as the plant that doesn’t bloom but carries
the light of those flowers, hidden, within itself,
and thanks to your love the tight aroma that arose
from the earth lives dimly in my body.
She Walks in Beauty
By Lord Byron (George Gordon)
She walks in beauty, like the night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies;
And all that’s best of dark and bright
Meet in her aspect and her eyes.
[i carry your heart with me(i carry it in]
by e.e. cummings
i carry your heart with me(i carry it in
my heart)i am never without it(anywhere
i go you go,my dear;and whatever is done
by only me is your doing,my darling).
by John Clare
I ne’er was struck before that hour
With love so sudden and so sweet,
Her face it bloomed like a sweet flower
And stole my heart away complete.
Quotes About Love
- With your valentine be cuddled, By a fireplace happily huddled.
–The Old Farmer’s Almanac, 2010
Love does not consist of gazing at each other but of looking together in the same direction.
True love begins when nothing is looked for in return.
–Antoine de Saint-Exupery, French writer (1900-44)
Love looks not with the eyes, but with the mind.
–William Shakespeare, English playwright (1564-1616)
Where there is love, there is no darkness.
True love never grows old.
Absence sharpens love; presence strengthens it.
Valentine’s Day Recipes
Valentine’s Day goes hand-in-hand with sweets, so why not try making one of our delicious Valentine’s Day recipes?
For the chocolate lovers, see our best Chocolate Dessert Recipes. We’ve tested and made all of these chocolate recipes ourselves. (Someone had to do it!)
Valentine’s Day Flowers
Red roses seem to be the popular flower for this loved ones as they symbolize love. Or, be different! See our list of flower symbolism and find a meaning that suits your loved one.
Gift a Living Plant
Another idea is to give a living plant which will last. Instead of cut roses from a hothouse or important flowers, how about giving a small rose bush? Bare root shrubs or trees can make wonderful gifts. Every time your loved one sees the plant, it’s a wonderful memory.
Have a Happy Valentine’s Day from all of us at The Old Farmer’s Almanac!