Valentine’s Day is the one day a year dedicated to all things love. But as all of the red and pink hearts and flowers begin to appear, it begs the question–how much do you really know about the history of Valentine’s Day?
Surprisingly, the origins of the holiday are a little unclear. Most people will agree the modern holiday arose from the religious observance of the Feast of St. Valentine. While February 14 is now celebrated around the world as a day of love, here are some little-known facts about the evolution of this love-filled day:
Connections to the Feast of St. Valentine
- The mid-February date may have ties to the pagan festival, Luperchalia, during which there was a ceremony to bestow fertility on women. To counteract this, Pope Gilasius declared February 14 as the feast of St. Valentine in 498 A.D.
- There were several Saint Valentines, but the one who stands out most is St. Valentine of Rome. He was a priest during the reign of Claudius II (who banned marriages in an effort to keep his army strong). St. Valentine is credited not only with secretly performing marriages until he was caught and sentenced to death, but upon his execution, supposedly passed a note to a love interest that was signed “from your Valentine.”
- Early references to Valentine’s Day having romantic connotations appear in works by both Geoffrey Chaucer and William Shakespeare.
Traditions and Icons of Valentine’s Day
- Cupid started out as the Greek god, Eros, who then became the bow and arrow-clad Roman god of love.
- The tradition of personally exchanging valentines began in the 1700s. By the 1800s, when postal service became more affordable, mailing valentines (sometimes anonymously) became a more popular tradition.
- The U.S. Greeting Card Association estimates that approximately 1 billion valentines are sent each year worldwide, making the day the second largest card-sending holiday of the year, behind Christmas.
International Observances of Valentine’s Day
- Throughout most of South America, Día del Amor y la Amistad (or the Day of Love and Friendship) is observed by showing love toward romantic companions and doing acts of kindness for friends. A similar holiday called Ystävänpäivä (or Friend’s Day) is celebrated in Finland.
- In Slovenia, Valentine’s Day marks the date to begin working the fields and vineyards again.
- In Japan and Korea, it is customary for women to give chocolates to men on February 14. One month later, on March 14 (referred to as White Day), men are expected to reciprocate with their own gift.
- Valentinsdag is celebrated in Denmark and Norway by sharing a romantic dinner and sending a card or red rose.
Continuing this centuries-old tradition simply reaffirms the importance of recognizing the love we share with friends and family. It might just be one day a year, but it is one that means so much to them to hear how you truly feel.