Love and romance. Candy and flowers. Cards and gifts. Dinner and dancing.
Valentine’s Day comes along with a whole host of plans and accoutrements that are meant to all boil down to one thing: Love. And it all comes in the name of one man, St. Valentine, who was an interesting (and perhaps slightly misunderstood) character in history.
It’s time to learn about and celebrate Valentine’s Day!
History of Valentine’s Day
While some people believe that the history of this day is pretty clear, the reality is that the story behind St. Valentine’s Day is covered in a great deal of mystery. Tradition hails February 14 (and perhaps even the whole month of February!) as a time for love and romance, with both ancient Roman and Christian backgrounds.
But when the life of St. Valentine, the patron saint of this day, is considered, that’s when things tend to get a bit more murky. Some people don’t realize that the Catholic church actually has record of three of its own saints who went by the name of Valentine (or Valentinus) and all three died as martyrs.
Valentine’s Day Timeline
St. Valentine is martyred
Defying anti-marriage instructions given by Emperor Claudius II in order to build up the army, Valentine secretly supports and marries young couples which eventually leads to him being put to death. His death is said to have taken place on February 14.
First Valentine’s Day is recognized
Pope Gelasius decides to get rid of the Feast of Lupercalia, a pagan festival of love, and chooses to replace it with a celebration in honor of St. Valentine, who was martyred a couple hundred years prior.
Chaucer’s Poem, Parlement of Foules, is written
This poem contains the first known literature reference connecting romantic love with Valentine’s Day. In the text of the poem, Chaucer writes of birds who would pair off with a mate, but some people refute the idea that it is connected to Valentine’s Day because February is too early and cold for birds to be mating.
Americans begin exchanging Valentines
During this century, the inspiration for romance and love on Valentine’s Day turns into the specific gesture of exchanging notes, poems and love letters which may have been delivered by hand or by the US Postal Service.
Valentine’s Day is released in theaters
This romantic comedy has a star-studded cast with big names like Julia Roberts, Bradley Cooper and even Kathy Bates, and tells the story of several different romances between couples that happen all in one day. However, at the box office, the film doesn’t really get the greatest reviews from critics.
Valentine Promotes Marriage
Perhaps the most commonly held tradition around St. Valentine is related to the year 270 AD when Claudius II was the emperor of Rome. Known as “Claudius the Cruel”, the emperor who wanted to build a strong army but was having trouble because of the attachment the men had to their wives and families. His solution? Just ban engagement and marriage, of course!
The story goes that Valentine, a priest in Rome, disagreed with the decree from Claudius and decided to go ahead and perform marriages anyway, allowing young lovers to marry each other in secret. When discovered, Claudius ordered the public beating and beheading of Valentine, which took place on February 14. The church later honored him by naming him as a saint.
This same Valentine is rumored to have become friends with the daughter of his jailer. He is said to have left her a note signed, “From Your Valentine”. This may explain the idea of asking someone “Will You Be My Valentine?”.
Less common are the other two saints also called Valentine, one who was a bishop in what is now Terni, Italy, and another who was martyred in a Roman province of Africa.
Feast of Lupercalia
It’s possible that even before Valentine, the priest, was martyred on February 14, the Feast of Lupercalia, a pagan feast of love, was celebrated around the same time. One tradition that went along with this festival is that the names of women were put into a box and drawn out by the men that they would be matched up with, letting chance (or fate!) take the lead.
By 496 AD, Pope Gelasius was tired of such pagan celebrations, so he declared that the Feast of Lupercalia would be canceled and, instead, St. Valentine’s Day would be celebrated on February 14. As time passed, this day became one where lovers would exchange poems, cards, notes and flowers, singing songs and performing other romantic gestures.
How to Celebrate Valentine’s Day
Celebrating Valentine’s Day comes with all sorts of inherited romantic traditions which can certainly be fun and bring lots of joy! But this is also a great way to get creative with showing people how much they are loved–even if it isn’t a romantic relationship.
Try out some of these ideas for celebrating Valentine’s Day:
Make a Card or Gift for Someone
Whether it’s a romantic partner or just a friend, Valentine’s Day is a great day to say “I Love You”. Hand made cards and gifts are especially welcome when it comes to showing someone how much they are cared for. January is a dark and quiet month anyway, so there’s plenty of time to prepare homemade gifts from a hobby like knitting a scarf, braiding a friendship bracelet, embroidering a towel, painting a picture or simply making a card.
Send Roses for Valentine’s Day
With delivery services abounding in almost every town, getting flowers delivered has never been easier! Choose to send red roses that stand for passion; yellow for friendship; pink for sweetness; peach for sincerity or gratefulness; white for purity or loyalty; ivory for perfection; and lavender for a crush (or love at first sight!).
Make Dinner Reservations
It’s likely that a last minute idea for going out to dinner will result in ordering takeout to eat at home, because restaurants are basically always full on Valentine’s Day. But, think ahead (sometimes months ahead, depending on the popularity of the restaurant) and make a reservation for two at a romantic place.
Enjoy a Story About Love
Head over to a local bookstore or library and browse the selection of novels or biographies that might feature stories about love. Or, it might even be interesting to read a biography about the guys named Valentine!
Those who don’t have as much time to read could put on their favorite drama or rom-com movie and see what hijinx the main characters get into. Try out some of these films about love to get started:
- Valentine’s Day (2010). Okay, maybe this one is obvious. And perhaps it’s not even a great film, but it would be remiss to leave out this one with an all-star cast including Julia Roberts, Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Garner and Ashton Kutcher.
- The Notebook (2004). This quintessential romance by Nicholas Sparks can be read as a novel or watched in the film starring Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams.
- Pride and Prejudice (2005). This delightful take on the Jane Austen’s novel of the same name stars Keira Knightly, Rosamund Pike and Matthew Macfayden.
- Think Like a Man (2012). Based on Steve Harvey’s book Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man, this rom-com features Michael Ealy, Regina Hall, Kevin Hart and Meagan Good.
Get Creative for Valentine’s Day
This day doesn’t have to be the same as it’s always been. In fact, it’s a great day to try something new. Go on a mountain hike, visit a museum together, go whitewater rafting or learn how to play chess. Whatever would be fun and can be done in the spirit of love is the perfect activity for this day!
Valentine’s Day FAQs
When is Valentine’s Day?
Valentine’s Day takes place every year on February 14. It started on this day in AD 496 when the pope established the holiday in Rome in honor of the martyred Saint Valentine, who was killed on February 14.
What to do on Valentine’s Day?
This day can be filled with opportunities to show people how much they are loved. Exchange cards, send someone flowers, make breakfast for family members or write a poem.
When was the first Valentine’s Day?
Valentine’s Day is not actually a modern holiday, but has been celebrated in the middle of the month of February for more than 1500 years. The first Valentine’s Day was established by Pope Gelasius.
Is Valentine’s Day a global holiday?
Yes! Valentine’s Day is celebrated in various capacities in countries all over the world. From sharing a bottle of wine to giving gifts, from school children in America exchanging Valentines cards to people in Wales exchanging carved wooden spoons, this day is one that shows how people simply love the idea of love.
Who was Saint Valentine?
There is a bit of overlap in the stories as it seems there were at least three martyred saints with the name Valentine. However, the one most notably celebrated was a priest in Rome who defied the emperor’s anti-love commands and married young couples anyway.