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Tracing the Historical Origins of Valentine's Day

Tracing the Historical Origins of Valentine's Day

Ever wondered about the Origins of Valentine's Day? Is it just a clever marketing ploy, or does it hold deeper historical roots?

We'll let you in on a secret - It’s far more than heart-shaped chocolates and love letters. Its origins take us back to ancient Rome!

We're diving deep into clandestine weddings under Emperor Claudius II rule and revealing how Lupercalia turned into Love Letters! Stick around as we journey from Roman gods to Geoffrey Chaucer's birds...

This tale is sure to make your next February 14th feel even more special. 

Quick links

Ancient Roman Origins
Pagan Festival of Lupercalia
Valentine's Day in the Middle Ages
Commercialisation of Valentine's Day
Frequently Asked Questions

Origins of Valentine's Day

The story of Valentine's Day takes us on a journey back to ancient Rome, where it seems the roots of this romantic day lie. Here we'll explore its transformation over time.

The Role of Emperor Claudius II

Emperor Claudius II, known as 'Claudius Gothicus', played an important part in our tale. It was during his reign that two men named Valentine were thought to have been executed on February 14 in different years in the 3rd century A.C.E.

This cruel act didn't sit well with people, and they started remembering these Valentines each year on the anniversary of their death. These martyrs later became saints named by none other than Pope Gelasius I himself.

The Catholic Church and Saint Valentine

Moving forward a few centuries, let’s delve into how these unfortunate fellows become linked with love and romance thanks to Saint Valentine. One theory suggests St.Valentine was a priest who married couples secretly against Emperor Claudius’ decree - hence starting our tradition for celebrating love.

Claudius believed unmarried soldiers fought better because they weren’t worried about leaving behind wives or children if they died. So he banned marriages. But St.Valentine thought this unjust and defied him – leading to his execution but also sealing his fate as patron saint of lovers.

Ancient Roman Origins

Digging into the past, we discover that Valentine's Day originated in ancient Rome; a period when gods and emperors controlled daily life, love letters were written on tablets and secret weddings represented an act of defiance. 

Secret Weddings in Ancient Rome

The tale begins with an emperor's decree. The Roman Emperor at that time believed unattached soldiers fought better than married ones who worried about their wives and families back home. So he outlawed marriage for young men serving his army.

But there was one person brave enough to defy this edict - St. Valentine of Terni. His belief in love led him to secretly officiate weddings for these star-crossed lovers under the watchful eye of the Roman Empire. If caught, it meant certain death but despite knowing this danger he pressed on because his conviction ran deep: Love should never be denied or suppressed by any earthly power.

In doing so, St.Valentine became an icon synonymous with romantic love itself; becoming known as 'the patron saint' amongst hopeless romantics throughout history up until today where many still hold fast onto traditions like exchanging sweet words penned down into what we now know as Valentine’s cards.

The Legend Behind ‘From Your Valentine’ Phrase

We owe our tradition of signing letters 'from your valentine' to another fascinating story from ancient Rome – involving yet again our beloved Saint. As legend has it, during his imprisonment before execution for defying Emperor Claudius II’s order against soldier marriages (and other Christian practices), St.Valentine befriended the jailer's daughter.

On the day of his execution, he left her a note signed "from your Valentine". This heartfelt gesture has echoed down centuries, transforming into our modern tradition of exchanging love notes on February 14th. Today it serves as an emblematic phrase expressing one's deep affection and admiration for their loved ones - truly a lasting legacy.

Pagan Festival of Lupercalia

Peel back the layers of time and you'll find Valentine's Day has roots steeped in a raucous Roman fertility festival, Lupercalia. Celebrated on February 15th, this pagan ritual involved animal sacrifices, public whippings for women to promote fertility (strange but true), and a lottery where men picked ladies' names from an urn.

From Lupercalia to Love Letters

The transformation from Lupercalia, a chaotic carnival of excesses into Valentine's Day as we know it today is quite remarkable. But why did this shift occur? The answer lies with Pope Gelasius I.

In his quest to Christianise Rome in 496 A.D., he outlawed the rowdy Lupercalian celebrations and declared February 14 as St. Valentine’s day – a more subdued occasion centred around love rather than wild festivities. 

This switch was monumental because it replaced one kind of celebration - physicality and chaos - with another that championed sentimentality over sexuality. Thus began the tradition of writing love letters on Valentine’s day, a practice which still holds strong centuries later.

Lupercalia isn't celebrated anymore but its spirit does linger faintly every year when lovers across the world exchange tokens on Feb 14th; whispering words etched not just on paper, but also hearts.

Valentine's Day in the Middle Ages

The Middle Ages brought about a shift in how we perceive Valentine’s Day, thanks to the poetic charm of Geoffrey Chaucer. This period saw literature playing a pivotal role in societal views on love and romance.

Birds, Bees and Geoffrey Chaucer

In this era, people began associating love with St. Valentine's Day. And no one played a bigger part than renowned author Geoffrey Chaucer.

Chaucer penned his famous 'Parliament of Fowls' around 1380-1390 AD where he associated the day of St. Valentine with romantic love for arguably the first time ever:

"For this was on Saint Valentine’s Day, When every bird comes there to choose his mate."

This stanza created ripples across society - suddenly everyone was celebrating February 14th as an occasion for expressing affection towards their beloved ones.

We can draw parallels between nature – specifically our feathered friends starting their mating process – and humans expressing feelings towards each other during this time. The analogy stuck so well that it continues even today.

However, despite its popularity now - back then not everyone agreed with these changes straight away. Some critics believed that linking carnal desires (associated by many with pagan practices) directly contradicted Christian values linked to saintly figures such as St.Valentine.

Societal Shift Towards Love Celebrations

This change didn't happen overnight but rather slowly seeped into popular culture. It was during the late Middle Ages that Chaucer’s influence started becoming evident.

People in love started penning sweet nothings to their special someone, kick-starting the 'Valentines' tradition. This trend caught on like wildfire in England and France, becoming a big deal by the 15th century. Even today, we keep this custom alive by swapping love notes on Valentine's Day.

Commercialisation of Valentine's Day

The journey from religious observance to a commercial holiday has been quite an interesting one for Valentine’s Day. Let's explore how this alteration came about.

A Religious Festival Turns Commercial

In the early days, Valentine’s Day was more about honouring Saint Valentine than exchanging gifts. Over time, Valentine's Day moved away from its spiritual roots and became increasingly focused on exchanging gifts.

The shift began in Victorian England when people started sending hand-made cards to their loved ones on February 14th. This trend caught on and businesses saw a golden opportunity here.

Valentine Cards: The Start of A New Era

As the tradition grew stronger with time, companies jumped onto the bandwagon by manufacturing mass-produced greeting cards around mid-19th century. This marked the beginning of commercialisation of Valentine's day.

Rise in Popularity During The Industrial Revolution

This cultural phenomenon further picked up pace during the industrial revolution due to advancements in printing technology that made production easier and cheaper. People were drawn towards these colourful pieces of paper that allowed them to express their feelings without saying much.

Paper Hearts Turn Into Material Gifts

In addition to valentine cards gaining popularity, so did giving chocolates as gifts. They became popular due largely thanks again partly because advancements within the confectionery industry making luxury goods like chocolate affordable masses.

Making Use Of Marketing 

By the turn of the century, businesses had begun to exploit marketing techniques in order to maximise profits on Valentine's Day. They began advertising other products besides chocolates and greeting cards as potential gift options for their customers.

This strategy worked well and it wasn't long before Valentine’s Day turned into a multi-billion dollar industry, with gifts ranging from jewellery to luxury vacations.

FAQs About the Origins of Valentine's Day

What is the true origin of Valentine's Day?

The origins trace back to Ancient Rome. Emperor Claudius II executed two men named Valentine on February 14, leading the Catholic Church to commemorate them as saints.

Is Valentine's Day a pagan holiday?

Prior to St. Valentine's Day, Romans celebrated Lupercalia, a fertility festival. Pope Gelasius I replaced this with St. Valentine's Day in an effort to Christianise celebrations.

Who created Valentine's Day and why was it created?

The Catholic Church initiated Saint Valentine's Day honouring two martyrs executed by Roman Emperor Claudius II. It became associated with love during the Middle Ages through Geoffrey Chaucer's literature.


So, we've traced the Origins of Valentine's Day all the way back to ancient Rome. You're now clued up on clandestine weddings and fertility festivals!

We delved into Emperor Claudius II’s reign and Saint Valentine’s defiance and we navigated from Lupercalia to Love Letters - a wild festival turned tender tradition. Who knew?

We saw how literature in the Middle Ages added romantic flavour, thanks to Geoffrey Chaucer.

In short, there's more depth to your February 14th celebrations than chocolates or cards could ever reveal! Enjoy sharing these historical tidbits with your loved ones.