The History & Legends of Valentine's Day

The History & Legends of Valentine's Day

By Cheri Sicard

Like most many modern celebrations, the origins of ValentineÂ’s Day can be traced back to Pagan times. In ancient Rome, February 14th was a day honoring Juno, the Goddess of women and marriage and Queen of the Roman Gods and Goddesses. The following day, February 15th, began the Feast of Lupercalia, a festival of love honoring Juno. Love lotteries were an important component of the celebration which took place on the eve of the festival. The names of girls were written on slips of paper and placed into jars. Young men would draw a girlÂ’s name from the jar, making these two partners for the duration of the festival. So even though they werenÂ’t yet called by the name, these early Romans were in fact the first Valentines.

Of course, the early Christians frowned on such erotic goings-ons. Despite their best PR efforts, the churchÂ’s attempts to convince celebrants to substitute the names of saints for would-be lovers was not met with much enthusiasm, especially since the participants were encouraged to emulate their chosen patron saintÂ’s virtues for the coming year. Instead the church settled for toning down the nature of Lupercalia from eroticism to romance.

Saint Valentine or Valentinus, who had been martyred on February 14 th 269 A.D, proved a convenient symbol around which to fashion this new celebration of romance. While evidence suggests the saint was himself a chaste man, legend has it he defied Emperor Claudius II by secretly marrying countless couples, a practice the emperor had banned believing that marriage weakened his army. Eventually Claudius caught on and the good saint was condemned and beaten to death. Another legend has it that Valentinus had befriended his jailerÂ’s daughter during his imprisonment. He left her a farewell letter signed (you guessed it) "From Your Valentine".

In 496 AD Pope Gelasius set aside February 14 to honor St. Valentine, who became the patron saint of lovers and gradually, February 14 became a day for exchanging love messages and simple gifts. The practice of lottery drawings to select Valentines persisted well into the eighteenth century, but a gradual shift took place in which the gift giving became the sole responsibility of the man. This marked the beginning of the end and the practice eventually disappeared and individuals were at last free to select their own Valentines.

Manufactured Valentine cards didnÂ’t appear until the end of the eighteenth century. The Victorians took their cards to elaborate lengths, trimming them with lace, silks and satins and embellishing them with special details like feathers, flowers, golf leaf, hand painted details and even sweetly perfumed sachets.

Until the mid-1800's, the cost of sending mail was beyond the means of the average person, and the recipient, not the sender, was expected to pay the cost of mailing. It wasn't until the advent of the penny post that the modern custom of sending ValentineÂ’s cards really gained critical mass.

Today, Valentines Day is the second most popular occasion for sending greeting cards, only surpassed by Christmas.

About the author

Cheri Sicard is the editor of, a food and cooking site which specializes in Holidays and Entertaining. Stop by for some recipes or to sign up for on of their seven free cooking newsletters.


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