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History of Valentine’s Day

Theories on the Origin of Valentine's Day

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Updated June 19, 2009

There are several theories as to the history and origins of Valentine’s Day. For the romantics, the history of Valentine’s Day is suitably shrouded in mystery. For the cynics, it is surprisingly that none of the stories about the history of Valentine’s Day involve a secret cabal of greeting card, chocolate, and flower companies. Here are some of the more commonly held ideas about how Valentine's Day came to be.

The Various St. Valentines

One Valentine history tale tells of a third century Roman priest (who was later sainted) named Valentine who defied the law of the day and performed marriages for young lovers (at the time marriage was seen as a problem for the state and for the army, and marriage for young men was outlawed). He was imprisoned, and while in jail he fell in love with the jailors daughter. He sent her notes in prison and signed them “from your Valentine”. In another story the jailor’s daughter was blind, and Valentine restored her sight. It is thought that Valentine’s Day began as a commemoration of the death of Saint Valentine.

There is another story (with upsetting Michael Jackson overtones) that describes Valentine as a Christian who made friends with many Romans, and in particular many children. He was imprisoned by the Romans for refusing to worship their gods, and the children would throw notes to him in his jail cell (explaining why people exchange messages on Valentine’s Day).

Pope Gelasius declared February 14 St. Valentine's Day around 498 A.D.

Valentine’s Day as the Christian Answer to the Lupercalia Festival

Another theory as to the origins of Valentine’s Day is that it was created to “Christianize” the Lupercalia festival which happened around the middle of February.

Variously described as being dedicated to Faunus, the Roman god of agriculture, to Juno, goddess of women and marriage, and to Romulus and Remus, the founders of Rome who were said to have been cared for by a she-wolf, the Lupercalia festival, in honor of Lupercus, the hunter of wolves, involved fertility rituals, as well as a ritual of drawing names out of a container to determine “romantic” couplings.

It is thought that the date of Valentine’s Day was chosen to offer an exciting alternative for Christian’s who were lured in by all the goat and dog sacrifices.

Valentine’s Day is for the Birds

Yet another piece of the Valentine’s Day history puzzle involves Geoffrey Chaucer and a 14th English century belief that birds chose their mate for the year on February 14.
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