Valentine's Day History, Origin, Why We Celebrate, and More (2024)

Whether you love Valentine's Day or hate it, one thing's clear: Valentine's Day history goes way back. And while Valentine's Day is now known for kissing, Valentine's Day gifts, and hard-to-get dinner reservations, the origins of the holiday are far less romantic. Here, the Valentine's Day history that wouldn't make it into a rom-com, featuring a saint, a massacre, and even the sinful nuns of Valentine's Day (seriously!).

Valentine's Day History, Origin, Why We Celebrate, and More (1)

When is Valentine’s Day?

First, a quick refresher: Valentine's Day always falls on February 14. Valentine's Day 2024 will be Wednesday, February 14. (But just wait until 2025, when it falls on a Friday!)

At the end of the 5th century, Pope Gelasius declared February 14 St. Valentine's Day, and since then, February 14th has been a day of celebration—though it was generally more religious than romantic.

How did Valentine’s Day start?

Valentine's Day is a fixed day on the calendar that got lumped into a mid-February holiday on the ancient Roman calendar called Lupercalia—which some historians believe is what led to Valentine's Day being all about love. Lupercalia celebrated fertility, and may have included a ritual in which men and women were paired off by choosing names from a jar. In Ancient Greece, people observed a mid-winter celebration for the marriage of the god Zeus and the goddess Hera.

Why is Valentine's Day celebrated on February 14th?

In general, early Christians often opted to celebrate holidays on days that coincide with existing festivals and celebrations (like Christmas and winter solstice), so they placed Valentine's Day on February 14th, while Lupercalia was celebrated on February 15th.

Who was Saint Valentine? (And what does he have to do with chocolate hearts?)

Valentine's Day History, Origin, Why We Celebrate, and More (2)

Not much, it turns out. St. Valentine's Day was a feast day in the Catholic religion, added to the liturgical calendar around 500 AD. The day was commemorated for martyred saints named—you guessed it—Valentine. Differing legends celebrate three different saints called Valentine or Valentinus, but since very little was known about these men and there were conflicting reports of the St. Valentine Day story, the feast day was removed from the Roman Catholic liturgical calendar in 1969.

But even though not much is known about the real history of the Saint Valentines on whom the holiday is based, the legend of Saint Valentine has several tellings. One legend says that Saint Valentine refused to convert to paganism and was executed by Roman Emperor Claudius II. Prior to his execution, he was able to miraculously heal the daughter of his jailer, who then converted to Christianity along with his family. Another legend says a bishop called Saint Valentine of Terni is the true namesake of the holiday; this Saint Valentine was also executed.

But according to others—and this is how Saint Valentine became affiliated with a love-focused holiday—Saint Valentine was a Roman priest who performed weddings for soldiers forbidden to marry, because of a Roman emperor's edict decreeing married soldiers did not make good warriors and thus young men could not marry. This Saint Valentine wore a ring with a Cupid on it—a symbol of love—that helped soldiers recognize him. And, in a precursor to greeting cards, he handed out paper hearts to remind Christians of their love for God.

Because of this legend, Saint Valentine became known as the patron saint of love. The Saint Valentine prayer asks Saint Valentine to connect lovers together, so that two become one, and the couple remembers their devotion to God.

While the Saint Valentine story set the groundwork for establishing the day as a holiday for romantic love, what truly solidified the connection between Saint Valentine and love was a poem by medieval author Geoffrey Chaucer in 1375, which historians consider the origin of the "modern" celebration of Valentine's Day, where we celebrate our romantic partnership with one other person.

Why do we celebrate Valentine’s Day?

Chaucer lived in the Middle Ages, the era of courtly love, when broad, romantic statements of devotion—poems, songs, paintings—celebrated partnership. By the end of the 15th century, the word "valentine" was being used to describe a lover in poems and songs of the day, and in the 18th century, a book called The Young Man's Valentine Writer was published in England. By the mid-19th century, mass-produced paper Valentine's Cards were being created (though DIY Valentine's card ideas are still worth trying), and Valentine's Day as we know it was born.

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The truth about Valentine's Day history is that the romantic holiday isn't immune to tragedy. During Prohibition in Chicago, seven men were killed by a gang organized by Al Capone on Feb. 14, 1929. The Valentine's Day Massacre became a flashpoint in Prohibition history, with police and lawmakers going after the gangs and mobs that had formed in cities to control then-illegal substances like alcohol.

What is Galentine's Day, and how is it related to Valentine's Day?

A modern (and fun!) take on Valentine's Day, Galentine's Day has been a recent addition to Valentine's Day history. It seems to have been popularized by Amy Poehler's character Leslie Knope onParks and Recreation. It's a day to celebrate the friends that you love. It's celebrated on February 13 (leaving you plenty of time to celebrate your mate on official Valentine's Day the following day). Galentine's Day gifts have become a nice way to celebrate the people who mean so much to you.

Is Valentine's Day a holiday?

While many people celebrate Valentine's Day in all kinds of different ways, it's no longer an official Catholic holiday—and unfortunately for all the romantics out there, it's not an official bank holiday or day off (though you can always take the day off for a special day with your significant other!).

6 Ways to Make Your Valentine's Day Celebration at Home Special

What is the meaning of Valentine’s Day?

Over the years (and centuries), Valentine's Day has been a religious celebration, an ancient ritual day, and a commercial holiday. All that change means the meaning of Valentine's Day is truly whatever you want it to be: You can skip the celebrations completely, buy yourself some chocolate or flowers, or express your love and appreciation for the people in your life, whether they're co-workers, romantic partners, friends, or family members.

Valentine's Day fun facts

Want to impress your friends and family with your Valentine's Day knowledge (or just win your Valentine's Day trivia contest at the local pub)? Check out these Valentine's Day fun facts:

•The average Valentine's Day gift giver spends nearly $200 on Valentine's Day gifts and goodies—for about $26 billion overall.

•While most people send out nice messages for the holiday, Victorian-era folks sometimes used valentines to turn down a suitor, called a vinegar valentine.

•More than 250 million roses are produced for Valentine's Day—with red roses making up nearly two-thirds of that number.

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• Valentine's Day is one of the most popular days to propose. (In fact, if you got engaged between December and February, you're in the zone when the most proposals happen.)

•The color red and the heart shape first started showing up in medieval art during the 14th and 15th century.

•If you don't make a big deal about Valentine's Day, you're not alone. A YouGov survey found that only 30% of Americans thought it was a real special occasion—with most people liking holidays like New Year's Eve, Halloween, Labor Day, and Memorial Day more than the day of love.

What are some fun things to do for Valentine's Day?

You can celebrate the day of love however you want—even if it's just through self-love. Some ideas that could inspire you:

35 Best Things to Do on Valentine's Day for Everyone

•Plan a nice dinner out

Watch a romantic movie (at the theater or cozy at home)

•Cook up a fancy romantic meal at home (or just a great Valentine's Day dessert)

•Host a Valentine's Day party

•Do some fun Valentine's crafts with your family

•Curl up with a steamy romance novel

•Write your mate a love letter (and don't forget to include a love quote or two!)

•Opt for some very flattering candlelight (with a few of our favorite romantic candles)

•Indulge in a relaxing bath (for one or two!)

Valentine's Day History, Origin, Why We Celebrate, and More (2024)


Valentine's Day History, Origin, Why We Celebrate, and More? ›

It originated as a Christian feast day honoring a martyr named Valentine, and through later folk traditions it has also become a significant cultural, religious and commercial celebration of romance and love in many regions of the world.

What is the true story 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 does the Bible say about Valentine's day? ›

1 John 4:7-12. Dear friends: let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.

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 pagan origin of Valentine's 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 deeper meaning of Valentine's day? ›

While the date is meant to honor Saint Valentine's death and burial, which supposedly occurred in mid-February around 270 AD, some historians believe the date could reflect the Catholic Church's attempt to replace the ancient Pagan celebration of Lupercalia — a fertility festival for the pagan agricultural god Faunus — ...

What is the real reason for Valentine? ›

Valentine's Day was a feast day in the Catholic religion, added to the liturgical calendar around 500 AD. The day was commemorated for martyred saints named—you guessed it—Valentine.

What is the evil story behind Valentine's Day? ›

The most common is that on one February 14 during the 3rd century A.D., a man named Valentine was executed by the Roman Emperor Claudius II after being imprisoned for assisting persecuted Christians and secretly marrying Christian couples in love.

What is the spiritual truth about Valentine's Day? ›

Valentine's Day celebrated on the 14th of February every year is a day to celebrate love and affection. The day has roots in the Roman festival of Lupercalia, which honored the god Lupercus. The day is also linked to the Feast of St. Valentine, a Christian feast day that honors a third-century saint.

Where is valentine located in the Bible? ›

Valentine's Day is a peculiar Christian holiday not mentioned in the New Testament—unsurprisingly, as it was instituted in honor of a third-century c.e. “saint” named Valentine.

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.

What is the secret behind Valentine's day? ›

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.

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 true story of Valentine's day? ›

According to NPR, Emperor Claudius II of Rome executed two different men named Valentine on February 14 (in two different years) during the third century. One account of St. Valentine says that he was a priest who was arrested for defying a Roman decree that forbade soldiers from marrying.

What is the sad story behind Valentine's day? ›

In another story, St. Valentine wrote the first “Valentine” greeting to a young girl he tutored and fell in love with while he was imprisoned for the crime of officiating soldiers' weddings. According to The History Channel, before dying, he wrote her a letter signed “From your Valentine,” which is often used today.

Who invented Valentine's day and why? ›

In the late 5th century, Pope Gelasius I outlawed Lupercalia. Some contend that he designated the celebration of St. Valentine's Day on February 14 to replace the pagan holiday.

What is the true meaning of the Valentine's day Massacre? ›

St. Valentine's Day Massacre, mass murder of a group of unarmed bootlegging gang members in Chicago on February 14, 1929. The bloody incident dramatized the intense rivalry for control of the illegal liquor traffic during the Prohibition era in the United States.

What is the full story of Valentine? ›

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.

What is the actual meaning of Valentine? ›

1. : a sweetheart chosen or complimented on Valentine's Day. 2. a. : a gift or greeting sent or given especially to a sweetheart on Valentine's Day.

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

The day is named after a Christian priest, Valentinus, who lived in the late third century AD and was beheaded on the orders of the pagan Roman emperor Claudius II on 14 February, a date subsequently commemorated by Christians as his feast day. But how did this bloody tale transform into a celebration of love?

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