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The Story Of Valentine's Day

On the 14th of February every year, several places around the world come together to celebrate Saint Valentine’s Day, also known as Valentine’s Day. This is the day for lovers who use the occasion to reaffirm their love to one another or propose to the person they love. However, there is a lot more to this occasion than just love, chocolates and heart-shaped symbols.

The Origins of Valentine’s Day

Despite the enduring popularity of the occasion, the fact is that many details about the origins of Valentine’s Day are shrouded in mystery. People tend to believe that Valentine’s Day celebrates the birthday of a saint named Valentine. However, that is not the exact truth.

The Christian History

There have been several Christian martyrs with the name Valentine in the early history of the religion. However, the Church honors two of them on the 14th of February, Valentine of Rome and Valentine of Terni. As a result, it is difficult to ascertain which Valentine is being referred to in the various legends. What is known is that these early Valentines were all martyred in the Roman oppression against Christianity.

The Pagan History

There have been claims that Valentine’s Day is simply the Christianization of a pagan festival. There was certainly such a festival celebrated by the Romans called Lupercalia. This festival was celebrated on the 15th of February.

The festival of Lupercalia was dedicated to the Roman god of agriculture. It also celebrated the founders of Rome, Romulus and Remus. The festival would start when a group from a specific order of Roman priests called Luperci would visit a sacred cave. It was the belief that Romulus and Remus were taken care of as infants by a she wolf in that cave. Here, a goat and a dog would be sacrificed, with the goat being a symbol of fertility and the dog symbolizing purification.

The hide of the goat would be cut down into strips and then dipped into a cup of sacrificial blood. This bloodied strip would then be taken by the priests to the city. Women and the crop fields would be slapped with it gently. It was believed that doing so would make the fields and the women more fertile.

In one version of the legend, this would be followed by another ritual. All the single young women of the city would put their names in a large urn. The bachelor men of the city could head to the urn and pick out a name. The man would then live with the woman he chose for a year. Such matches often led to marriage.

Since fertility and other romantic notions were a part of Lupercalia, it is possible that they passed on to the occasion of St. Valentine’s Day.

The Legends of St. Valentine

Over the passage of years, several legends have been ascribed to a saint named Valentine. So far, it has not been possible to determine if any of those legends are true but they do have some features in common. Nonetheless, they are worth understanding as they all point towards the St. Valentine’s Day becoming a day to celebrate love.

In one legend, Valentine is considered to be a priest during the time of Emperor Claudius II. The emperor had implemented a law under which young men could not marry since he considered them that they made better soldiers. Feeling that the law was unjust, Valentine opposed it by helping young men in the army get married. He would perform marriage ceremonies for them in secret. After being discovered, he was executed under the orders of Emperor Claudius.

In another legend, Valentine is said to be a priest who tried to help Christians flee from Roman prisons. During those turbulent times, Christians were imprisoned by Romans and often made to undergo torture. However, Valentine was captured and sentenced to death.

In a variation of the above legend, the story says that Valentine fell in love after being imprisoned. The girl was possibly the daughter of his jailor and she used to visit him during his captivity. In this story, Valentine is stated to be the very first person to send a ‘valentine’ when he sent the girl a letter signed with the words, ‘from your Valentine’. Of course, this expression is still commonly used these days.

Irrespective of the authenticity of the various legends, the fact is that they all serve to highlight certain characteristics of St. Valentine. He is depicted as a heroic and sympathetic individual but his most endearing trait is certainly his romantic nature. It is also possibly the reason why St. Valentine became incredibly popular in France and England during the Middle Ages.

The Development of the Modern Valentine’s Day

The characteristics of the modern Valentine’s Day celebrations can be traced back to the Middle Ages. In England and France, it was a common belief that 14th of February marked the start of the mating season of birds. This led to the idea that the day should be celebrated as a day of romance and love.

The first recorded link between romantic love and Valentine’s Day can be traced back to 1382 in a poem called ‘Parlement of Foules’. It was written by Geoffrey Chaucer.

Contrary to popular belief Valentine greetings are not a modern invention. In fact, they were popular during the Middle Ages. However, written Valentine’s greetings took some time to appear and become common. The earliest known written greeting has been traced back to 1415. It was written by the then Duke of Orleans, Charles to his wife when he was held captive in the Tower of London.

Valentine’s Day Celebrations around The World

Although St. Valentine’s Day is a Christian festival, its celebrations have spread all over the world. The fact is that this day is seen as a day for celebrating love rather than the deeds of the saint for most people, especially among non-Christians. As a result, it has given rise to various kinds of celebrations in different countries.

United States

Commercialization of Valentine’s Day has led to gifting becoming an important tradition in the USA on Valentine’s Day. Millions of cards are exchanged and sent on this day. Chocolate reigns as the most popular gifting option but various other kinds of gifts can be exchanged as well.


The popularity of Valentine’s Day began to rise during the 1990s as the country became increasingly open to Western culture. These days, many areas of the country celebrate Valentine’s Day as they do in western countries, complete with chocolates and gifting. However, many areas of India and various conservatives are against this celebration, claiming it to be against traditional values.

Latin America

In most Latin American countries, Valentine’s Day is celebrated as a day of affection. They have their own traditions and not all of them have a romantic connotation. However, in Brazil, they have their own version of Valentine’s Day and it celebrated on June 12.


The Japanese have come up with a unique variation of celebrations for Valentine’s Day. The holiday itself was introduced for the first time in 1936 by a chocolate confectionary company. The company later promoted the gifting of chocolate on this day. Interestingly, it is only women who give chocolate to men on this day. Other kinds of gifts such as greeting cards, flowers and candy are uncommon.

Later, March 14 came to be known as the White Day. On this day, the men who received chocolate on February 14 are expected to return the gesture by gifting the women some white chocolate. Various traditions have grown around it. It is expected that the gift chosen by men should be 2 times the value of the gift received at the very least.

UK, France, Spain and Portugal etc

These countries tend to celebrate Valentine’s Day in the same way like USA. A lot of gifting takes place with chocolate being the most popular choice.

The Most Popular Valentine’s Day Gifts

Over the years, some items have become synonymous with the celebrations during Valentine’s Day as they are widely exchanged and gifted on this day. Here are the top choices favored by lovers all over the world.

Chocolate: Easily the most popular Valentine’s Day gift after greeting cards, chocolates make the best choice. After all, they are available in a dizzying number of varieties, some of which are exclusively made for this particular day. Moreover, chocolates are incredibly delicious and some varieties are rather delicious. Nonetheless, the main reason for buying chocolates is simply that they can be quite romantic.

Jewelry: The popularity of jewelry as a Valentine’s Day gift is mainly due to the fact that people love proposing on this day. In fact, statistics show that women love to be proposed on this day.

Greeting Cards: It has been estimated over 140 million cards are sold in the US alone during Valentine’s Day excluding those that are exchanged by students. Therefore, if nothing else, consider getting your valentine a greeting card.

Whatever be the history of Valentine’s Day, the fact remains that it is now one of the most popular celebrations across the world. However, since you now know the history, you can go ahead and impress your valentine with your knowledge on Valentine’s Day.

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  • Anaisha Trehan on

    Nice article!

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