Love Across Centuries: the History of Valentine’s Day

Valentine’s Day, a celebration of love and affection, is a time-honoured tradition that has captivated hearts for centuries. The origins of this romantic day are shrouded in history, with tales of martyrs, poets, and traditions that have evolved over time. In this exploration, we journey through the fascinating history of this occasion, discovering the roots and narratives that have shaped this cherished occasion.

Ancient Roman Festival of Lupercalia

The history of Valentine’s Day can be traced back to ancient Rome and the festival of Lupercalia, celebrated from February 13 to 15. This pagan festival was dedicated to fertility and marked the transition from winter to spring. During Lupercalia, young men would draw names of young women from a container, pairing them for the duration of the festival, and often, these pairings would lead to marriage.

Saint Valentine’s Day

The association between this day and romantic love can be linked to the Christian saint, Valentine. Several martyrs named Valentine existed in the early Christian era, but the most commonly cited is Saint Valentine of Rome. Legend has it that he defied Emperor Claudius II’s ban on marriages for young men, continuing to perform weddings in secret. Eventually, he was apprehended, imprisoned, and executed on February 14.

Chaucer’s Connection to Romantic Love

The poetic association of St Valentine’s with romantic love gained prominence in the Middle Ages. Geoffrey Chaucer, the English poet, played a pivotal role in associating the day with love in his poem “Parliament of Fowls,” where he linked the day to the mating of birds. This poetic connection laid the groundwork for the celebration of romantic love on February 14.

First Written Valentine’s Day Greeting

The earliest known written Valentine’s Day greeting dates back to the 15th century. Charles, Duke of Orleans, wrote a love letter to his wife while imprisoned in the Tower of London. The letter, adorned with romantic verses, is considered one of the earliest examples of a Valentine’s Day message.

The Rise of Valentine’s Day Cards

By the 18th century, the exchange of handwritten notes and tokens of affection on Valentine’s became more widespread in England. The mass production of Valentine’s Day cards began in the 19th century, with the advent of the Industrial Revolution, making the expression of love more accessible to people from all walks of life.

Valentine’s Day Spreads to America

Valentine’s Day crossed the Atlantic to North America in the 19th century. It gradually evolved into the celebration we recognize today, with the exchange of cards, flowers, and tokens of love becoming widespread. The commercialization of the holiday further popularized the tradition, and Valentine’s Day became a significant cultural phenomenon.

Modern Celebrations

Today, Valentine’s Day is celebrated globally, transcending cultural and religious boundaries. The day is marked by the exchange of cards, flowers, chocolates, and other expressions of affection. Romantic dinners, proposals, and gestures of love have become synonymous with the day, making it a cherished occasion for couples around the world.

The history of Valentine’s Day is a rich tapestry woven with threads of ancient traditions, religious martyrdom, poetic influences, and cultural evolution. From its origins in ancient Rome to the poetic contributions of Chaucer and the commercialization of the 19th century, Valentine’s has transformed into a global celebration of love. As we exchange tokens of affection and express our feelings on this special day, we become part of a timeless tradition that transcends centuries, celebrating the enduring power of love.