A Fascinating Look Into Valentine's Day's Dark Origin Story (2024)

Every year on Valentine’s Day, couples express their affection toward each other by exchanging cards, boxes of chocolate, and other gifts. There’s a running joke that the holiday was created by greeting-card or candy companies, due to the gift-giving holiday's materialistic connotations. But, as it turns out, that's not the case.

Why is Valentine's Day celebrated, really? The real reason is rooted in Christian and Roman traditions — and the mysterious Saint Valentine is at its center.

Who Was Saint Valentine?

The Catholic church recognizes multiple Saint Valentines, and it’s inconclusive which one the holiday nods to.

However, there are a few theories: The first is that Valentine’s Day is celebrated in honor of a priest in third-century Rome. Legend has it that this Saint Valentine challenged Emperor Claudius II's decree that men make better soldiers when single. He married lovers in secret and was killed for treason upon discovery of this act.

Others believe Valentine’s Day is the namesake holiday of Saint Valentine of Terni. This Saint Valentine was a bishop in third-century Rome and is known for having married two lovers of differing religions against their parents' wishes. Anglo-Saxtons believe Saint Valentine of Terni shared flowers from his garden with visitors — when two of them fell in love, he officiated their wedding. This couple became the prime example of what it means to be blissfully in love, inspiring the saint to dedicate one day a year to a general wedding blessing.

Another belief is that Valentine’s Day was inspired by a man who was imprisoned and fell in love with his jailor’s daughter. This man was said to have written the very first “valentine,” as he allegedly wrote his lover a letter, signing it “from your Valentine.”

The first Valentine’s Day celebrations

Some believe Valentine’s Day is celebrated on February 14 because that is when Saint Valentine was killed or buried. Others claim the date has to do with the ancient Roman feast of Lupercalia, which was a days-long celebration that would start on February 13 and end on February 15.

While Valentine’s Day in modern times is associated with paper hearts and candlelit dinners, Lupercalia was less idyllic. The festival was meant to encourage a woman’s fertility and pay homage to Faunus, the Roman god of agriculture, as well as Romulus and Remus, the Roman founders. It began with the sacrifice of a goat (representing fertility) and a dog (representing purification).

To start, priests would kill the animals and cut the goat’s hide into strips. They were then dipped in the sacrificial blood, and women would willingly line up to be whipped with the bloodied shreds, in hopes that this rite would make them fertile in the coming year. Later, the women’s names would be put into a jar for men to pick from, and this coupling would last the duration of the festival, if not longer, depending on the match.

Eventually (and fortunately), the holiday evolved. First, Pope Gelasius I combined Valentine’s Day with Lupercalia to end its association with Paganism. This was around the same time the Normans (who were Viking settlers in France) started celebrating Galatin’s Day, which was similar to Valentine’s Day.

We have Chaucer and Shakespeare to thank for the holiday’s turn for the sweeter. The writers romanticized the day in their works, which became popular across Europe. Paper cards became a popular new way to express affection in the mid-century — until Hallmark came to fruition in the early 1900s.

Valentine’s Day Traditions Across the World

Czech Republic

Czechs make Valentine’s Day in the U.S. look only somewhat romantic. Though they celebrate on May 1 instead of February 14, those partaking in the festivities pay a visit to the statue of poet Karel Hynek Macha. The statue is located next to a picturesque cherry tree grove where couples share a kiss under the blooms.


German couples ditch hearts in favor of pig-shaped gifts on Valentine’s Day. Flowers, chocolates, and ginger cookies are also exchanged, but pigs also reign, as they represent love and lust.


In Mexico, Valentine’s Day celebrates all kinds of love: romantic, platonic, and familial. There, February 14 isn’t called Valentine’s Day, but rather "El Día del Amor y Amistad," which translates to the "Day of Love and Friendship."


Looking to get hitched? On Valentine’s Day in the Philippines, the government hosts one big marriage ceremony, so couples can be wed en masse.

South Africa

Talk about wearing your heart on your sleeve. In South Africa, women write the name of the person they love on a piece of paper and pin it to their sleeve, so there’s no guessing where their affection lies.


In Argentina, Valentine’s Day isn’t celebrated in February, nor is it a single day of celebration. Argentinian couples celebrate "Semana de la Dulzura" or “the week of sweetness” from July 1-7, spoiling loved ones with sweet treats and a lot of kisses.

A Fascinating Look Into Valentine's Day's Dark Origin Story (1)

Julia Guerra

Contributing Writer

Julia Guerra is a New Jersey-based freelance writer with bylines across digital media sites such as InStyle, WWD, INSIDER Reviews, MindBodyGreen, and more. With over 7 years of writing across lifestyle verticals, she is forever testing and researching all things related to makeup and skincare, fashion, athleisure, women's health and wellness, as well as the best home gym equipment. When she's not writing articles, Julia can be found with her head in a book, obsessing over skincare, practicing yoga, taking pictures of her adorable cat, or spending time with her husband and loved ones.

A Fascinating Look Into Valentine's Day's Dark Origin Story (2024)


What is the dark origin of Valentine's day? ›

One Valentine was a priest in third-century Rome who defied Emperor Claudius II after the ruler outlawed marriage for young men. St. Valentine would perform marriages in secret for young lovers, ultimately leading to his death.

What is the original story of Valentine's day? ›

Saint Valentine was discovered and imprisoned in a torture-ridden Roman jail, where he fell in love with a mysterious girl (believed to be his prosecutor's daughter). He sent her a love letter signed 'from your Valentine' right before his execution, thus originating the romantic sign-off still widely used today.

What is 7 to 14 February 2024? ›

7 February to 14 February- Valentine's Week 2024

While the main Valentine's Day is celebrated on the 14th of February, the additional occasions start from the 7th of February and go on till the 14th of February.

What did Bishop Valentine do secretly? ›

According to legend, St. Valentine signed a letter “from your Valentine” to his jailer's daughter, whom he had befriended and healed from blindness. Another common legend states that he defied the emperor's orders and secretly married couples to spare the husbands from being conscripted to serve in war.

Is Valentine in the Bible? ›

Since the origin of Valentine's Day as a romantic holiday only dates back to the 14th century, the Bible doesn't have any specific messages about the day—but it does have a lot to say on the subject of love.

Should Christians celebrate Valentine's day? ›

If that works for you, do it. But the biblical pattern teaches us that romantic love between husband and wife should be on display often and much. It isn't that celebrating Valentine's Day is too much; it is too little and weak. Christians, live your married years so that you don't need Valentine's Day.

Is today kiss day? ›

Kiss Day is celebrated every year on 13 February. It falls on the seventh day of Valentine's Week—a day after Hug Day and a day before Valentine's Day. The Valentine's Week celebrations start with Rose Day on 7 February followed by Propose Day, Chocolate Day, Teddy Day, Promise Day, Hug Day, and Kiss Day.

Does 2024 have a leap day? ›

This year, 2024, is a leap year. Leap day will fall on Thursday, Feb. 29. The next leap years will be in 2028, 2032 and 2036.

Is it rose day today? ›

Rose Day, celebrated annually on February 7, holds a special place in the hearts of romantics worldwide.

Why was Valentine put in jail? ›

Emperor Claudius II had banned marriage because he thought married men were bad soldiers. Valentine felt this was unfair, so he broke the rules and arranged marriages in secret. When Claudius found out, Valentine was thrown in jail and sentenced to death.

Why does the bishop have a cane? ›

This particular staff is called a crosier which is a stylized staff that represents the Orthodox Bishops and senior monastic officers and is a symbol of their jurisdiction and authority.

How many died in the St. Valentine's Day massacre? ›

At 10:30 in the morning on Saint Valentine's Day, Thursday, February 14, 1929, seven men were murdered at the garage at 2122 North Clark Street, in the Lincoln Park neighborhood of Chicago's North Side. They were shot by four men using weapons that included two Thompson submachine guns.

What's the truth behind Valentine's day? ›

Turns out, it was a pretty common name during Late Antiquity. As far as anyone can tell, the Saint Valentine of Valentine's Day was one of two guys preaching the good word in Rome in the third century. One of these two was martyred on February 14th 269, thus giving us the date for his eponymous day.

What is the logic behind Valentine's day? ›

While imprisoned, Valentine cared for his fellow prisoners and also his jailor's blind daughter. Legend has it that Valentine cured the girl's blindness and that his final act before being executed was to write her a love message signed 'from your Valentine'. Valentine was executed on 14 February in the year 270.

What is the pagan origin of Valentines day? ›

However, many historians believe the day originated from the Roman pagan festival of fertility called Lupercalia, an event filled with animal sacrifice, random coupling and the whipping of women; not quite the romantic chocolate and roses day that we celebrate today.

What is the spiritual meaning of Valentine's day? ›

While the holiday has undergone secularization over time, its origins in Christian martyrdom and acts of love align with broader spiritual themes of compassion, selflessness, and devotion. For some, Valentine's Day serves as a reminder of the importance of love in both human relationships and spiritual practice.

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