A History of Valentine’s Day ~*~*~*

Filed in Gather Writing Essential by on February 9, 2012 0 Comments

It’s more than about Hallmark, chocolate, love and kisses.


Victorian Valentine’s Day card. Public domain

Its roots are ancient and varied, encompassing a few Roman practices and numerous saints.

Let’s go back to the beginning, and work our way toward modern day.



There was not one Saint Valentine, but several early Christian martyrs of that name. Two martyred saints are associated with February 14 – Valentine of Rome and Valentine of Terni. Valentine of Rome was a priest, who was martyred in 269 AD, Valentine of Terni was a bishop who was martyred in 197 AD.

A third saint associated with this day was martyred in Africa.

The name Valentine derives from Latin, ‘valens’, meaning strong, worthy, and was popular in this period of Late Antiquity.

And let’s not forget the actor, Rudolph Valentino, or the designer, Valentino. It is still a popular name worthy of its strength.

Romantic association with Valentine was not established until much later.  The Feast day of St. Valentine was removed from the Roman Catholic Calendar of Saints but is still celebrated in Malta.

Brazll has its own Valentine’s celebration on June 12.

It is believed these saints were martyred by Roman leaders who wanted them to convert to Paganism; the saints then tried to convert the Roman leaders to Christianity.


Valentine’s Day had some of its origins in the early Roman fertility festival of Lupercalia.

Luper was the she-wolf who suckled Romulus and Remus, founders of Rome. It is also believed that Lupercalia may have pre-dated Roman civilization.

This festival was a Roman festival to purify new life in the spring. Brothers of the wolf (Luperci) dressed in goatskins and a sacrifice by the Luperci of two male goats and a dog, were performed, and they then annointed their foreheads with the sacrificial blood. the feast that followed featured the Luperci dressed in thongs (skins) from the goat skins, these were called the Februa. They then ran around in imitation of Lupercus and struck people with whips. Girls and women lined up for their whippings; these whippings were to ensure fertility, to prevent sterility and to ease childbirth.

Go figure.

By the 5th century, this practice of public performance was outlawed by early Christianity, but the Roman population still clung to the Lupercalian practice.  Pope Gelasius finally abolished the popular fertility feast of Lupercalia.


In the middle ages, Chaucer wrote about ‘love birds’ (1382)

For this was on seynt Volantynys day

Whan euery bryd comyth there to chese his make.”

‘On St. Valentine’s day, every bird comes to choose his mate.’

Scholars question this as February was not mating time for birds. However, in British English bird often means ‘lass’ or even ‘chap and lass.’


In France, in 1400, a High Court of Love was established to deal with the rules of love and betrayal and to fight violence against women. Women chose the judges for this court, based upon the candidates poetry readings. An early Valentine from the Duke of Orleans to his wife was written during this period.

Shakespeare’s Ophelia mentions St. Valentine’s day in Hamlet, Act IV, Sc 5.

To-morrow is Saint Valentine’s day,
All in the morning betime,
And I a maid at your window,
To be your Valentine.
Then up he rose, and donn’d his clothes,
And dupp’d the chamber-door;
Let in the maid, that out a maid
Never departed more.

Valentine’s Day postcard, circa 1910, public domain

Modern times

By 1797, The Young Man’s Valentine Writer was published in England, for men who did not feel confident in penning a verse they felt suitable to convincing their hope-to-be-paramour of their love.

In the 1800s, postal rates were low, and this encouraged anonymous mailing of racy gushings, so unlike the rest of prudish Victorian society.  Paper valentines were made in factories, and fancier ones were made with lace and ribbons.

In the US, by 1849, a writer in Graham’s American Monthly magazine observed that Saint Valentine’s Day is becoming a national ‘holyday.’

In 1847, Esther Howland of Worcester, Mass., produced and sold the first US. – mass produced valentines of paper lace. Howland’s father owned a stationary store, but having recently received an English valentine, began this lovely practice of making and mailing American valentines.

Currently, the US Greeting Card Association estimates that 1 billion Valentines are sent worldwide each year, making Valentine’s Day the second largest card sending holiday after Christmas.


After WWII in the US, gifts such as roses and chocolates were common gifts for men to give women. By the 1980s, the diamond industry also began to promote this day as a perfect day for diamonds, making February number two for jewelry sales, after December, in which 90 percent of all jewelry is bought.

St. Valentine’s Day is also a general platonic ‘singles awareness day’, ‘anti-cupid’ day or Cupid Is Stupid Party day…and a day of general appreciation. Love is not just romantic love, which is thorny at best, but love is…love…

Internet cards are also extremely popular in this modern day.


Esther Howland Valentine, circa 1850: “Weddings now are all the go, Will you marry me or no”

Whitney Valentine, 1887; Howland sold her New England Valentine Company to the George C. Whitney Company in 1881

Advertisement for Prang’s greeting cards, 1883

In Europe, many regional practices predominate. In Norfolk, England, “Jack” Valentine knocks on the back doors and leaves sweets for children. Wales celebrates its Valentine’s Day in January, named after a Welsh patron saint of love.

In the UK, France and Spain, sending cards or giving chocolates is common. In Portugal, it is known as boyfriend/girlfriend day.  In Scandinavia, it is not celebrated as much by cards and flowers or chocolate, but couples often sit down to a romantic dinner.

In Finland, this day is one of celebrating all friends, not just lovers. In South America, this day is celebrated as lovers day, except for Brazil, which celebrates boyfriend/girlfriend day on June 12.


In Asia, people in China, Singapore and South Korea spend quite a bit of money on Valentine related items.

In China, the man gives flowers  and chocolate to the woman he loves.

In South Korea, women give chocolate to their guys on Feb. 14. A month later, men who did not receive anything go to a restaurant to eat black noodles and mourn their single status.

In Japan, this day has been promoted since the 1930s, with many changes along the way. Women give chocolates to the men, but this appears to have been a typo in the original sales promotion literature, but the custom persists.

In Japan, women often feel obliged to give chocolates even to male coworkers, with the less popular male guys in the office receiving cheap chocolates. Female friends in Japan also give chocolates to other women.  March 14 in Japan is ‘white day’ a reply day, in which the men who received chocolates from their gals on St. Valentine’s Day will return the favor. Men are expected to spend two to three times as much in this gift return favor as the women spend on them. A man who does not return the favor is looked down upon as one who is claiming to feel superior over the woman. Gifts on white day also include lingerie, as well as sweets. The color white was chosen for March 14 because it represented sweet teen love and because it is the color of sugar.

China has an ancient custom that relates more to romantic rituals than St. Valentine’s day, the night of sevens, in which the cowherd star and the milk maid star are allowed to meet on the 7th day of the 7th month of the Chinese calendar.


In India, some Hindu fundamentalists have tried to warn people away from having anything to do with Valentine’s Day, as a way of protecting Indian culture and beliefs.

In Saudi Arabia, religious police have banned the sale of any Valentine’s items, promoting it as Western pollution.

Sources:St. Valentines Day


About the Author ()

An article of mine, 'On Marriage, Life, Death and Remarriage' was published in "Blended Families (Social Issues Firsthand) by Greenhouse Press." An article of mine was referenced in this book: "Margaret Atwood: a reference guide" by Judith McComb

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