Planning a surprise for a sweetheart this Valentine’s Day might provoke curiosity about the origins of this romantic holiday. While historians don’t know everything about how February 14 came to be associated with celebrating loved ones, here are a few clues they do know.
Most experts believe that the holiday began to celebrate Saint Valentine and dates back to both ancient Christian and Roman traditions. Of the three separate St. Valentines in Catholicism, some believe that Valentine’s Day is in honor of a Roman priest who was martyred for performing outlawed marriages for young couples in secret. Other stories hold that the holiday was named after a St. Valentine who helped Christians escape harsh, torturous Roman prisons where they were persecuted for their beliefs.
In one legend, one of the prisoners, named Valentine, sent a note to his beloved; this type of love letter became known as a “valentine.” In fact, he may have signed the note “from your Valentine,” a phrase still in existence today.
Other clues indicate that Valentine’s Day may have been founded as a Christian version of the Pagan celebration Lupercalia. This fertility festival began with a goat sacrifice; women touched by the hide or the blood of the animal were thought to be more fertile during the year to come. After this ritual, each of the city’s bachelors would choose the name of an eligible woman from an urn, a playful activity that nonetheless often ended in marriage.
In the Middle Ages, February 14 was considered the first day of the bird’s mating season, associating the date with a celebration of love and romance. Written valentines have been found as early as the 1500s.
While we don’t know everything about the history of Valentine’s Day, couples today still enjoy February 14 as a celebration of the special relationship with their loved one.