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  • Writer's pictureHana-Lei Ji

The History of Valentine's Day

February 14th is known as the day of love, whether you celebrated with your significant other, best friends, or family. The stores are stocked with chocolate and restaurants are booked with reservations. Even during a pandemic, Valentine’s Day remains an important holiday for people to showcase their affection for others.

It’s almost inconceivable that the holiday doesn’t have a glorious romantic background. In fact, historians aren’t completely sure of the origins of Valentine's Day. The most well-known story centers around Saint Valentine. However, according to HISTORY, the Catholic Church recognizes at least two different saints with the name Valentine. They were both executed and martyred for their various heroic actions to defend love. One Saint Valentine performed marriages for young lovers in Rome, despite the emperor’s ban on marriages. Another Valentine was rumored to help Christians escape Roman prisons. An imprisoned Valentine is believed to have sent the first “valentine” greeting on a letter to a girl he had fallen in love with. Nevertheless, Valentine is characterized as compassionate and, most importantly, romantic.

Valentine’s Day commemorates the anniversary of Valentine’s death. The holiday dates back to A.D. 270. However, some historians claim that the timing of Valentine’s Day in the middle of February was an attempt by the Christian church to “christianize” a pagan festival. This festival was known as Lupercalia and celebrated Roman gods. Since Lupercalia was a fertility festival and involved sacrifices of goats and dogs, it was deemed as “un-Christian.” In the 5th century, Pope Gelasius officially declared February 14th as St. Valentine’s Day.

Over time, St. Valentine’s Day became more and more associated with love. There was a widespread belief that February 14th was when birds started to mate. However, the first record of the holiday’s association with human mating was in 1375 when poet Geoffrey Chaucer wrote “For this was sent on Seynt Valentyne’s day / Whan every foul cometh ther to choose his mate.” Chaucer set in motion the traditions we see today. Artists, such as William Shakespeare, continued to romanticize the holiday and St Valentine’s Day grew in popularity as a day of love.

Despite its complicated history, Valentine’s Day is celebrated around the world. According to the National Retail Federation, 73% of customers in the United States “celebrating Valentine’s Day this year feel it is important to do so given the current state of the pandemic.” Additionally, Hallmark reports selling an average of 145 million Valentine’s Day cards every year with teachers receiving the most cards. From the holiday’s history and modern traditions, it’s clear that Valentine’s Day represents more than materialistic gifts or being in a relationship. We have learned to appreciate love and connection in any form.

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