A student news site of Columbia College

The PostScript

Learn the not-so-lovely origins of Valentine’s Day

Kristin Weaver, staff writer

Hang on for a minute...we're trying to find some more stories you might like.


Email This Story






Valentine’s Day is rapidly approaching, and whether you believe it’s a day to be celebrated, or just another “Hallmark Holiday,” it’s hard to deny the origins of Valentine’s Day are fascinating.

Who was St. Valentine?

The exact St. Valentine is somewhat of a mystery, according to History.com. There is no proven one-and-only St. Valentine of Valentine’s Day. In fact, the Catholic church recognizes at least three different saints who possess the name Valentine or Valentinus.

One story tells of a young Valentine who was outraged that Emperor Claudius II outlawed marriage for young men and women. This Valentine continued to perform marriages for these young lovers, and, of course, was put to death when Emperor Claudius discovered this, according to History.com.

Another story tells of an imprisoned Valentine who fell in love with a young girl who would visit him during his isolation. This particular legend tells of Valentine writing a letter to his young infatuate, signing it, “From your Valentine,” a phrase that History.com points out we still use today.

The Pagan origins of Valentine’s Day

Similar to its namesake, the exact origins of Valentine’s Day cannot quite be pinned down, according to NPR. A common belief is that Valentine’s Day is celebrated in the middle of February to commemorate St. Valentine’s death, but in actuality, it is more likely that Valentine’s Day was placed in the middle of February to “Christianize” an already existing pagan celebration of Lupercalia.

Lupercalia was an ancient Roman fertility festival that fell on Feb. 15 under the superintendence of a group of priests called Luperci, according to The Encyclopedia Britannica. This sacred festival would begin with a goat and a dog being sacrificed. After the animals were sacrificed and the Luperci were adorned with the blood of the sacrificial animals, a sacrificial feast was held. Once their feast was complete, the Luperci would walk through the town, gently slapping any woman that they passed with the blood of the goat and dog, according to history.com.

The woman of the town would actually look forward to being slapped with the bloody strips of skin, as it meant increased fertility for the upcoming year.

The Festival of Lupercalia was not complete until the name of each woman in the town was put into a large urn. Once the names were inside, each male in the town would pick a name as a match. This match would last for at least one year, and many of these matches ended in marriage.

It is believed that this is the most likely origin of Valentine’s Day because as many pagans converted to Christianity, they found ways to “Christianize” their once-pagan celebrations, so they would not have to give up their beloved rituals completely, according to History.com.

Valentine’s Day Today

Depending on your interests, present-day Valentine’s Day celebrations seldom involve any sacrificial goats. The most common way Valentine’s Day is celebrated in the United States is with couples exchanging gifts such as flowers, chocolates or cards, according to the Time and Date website.

Along with the United States, Valentine’s Day is also celebrated in the United Kingdom, Canada, Mexico, France and Australia, according to History.com. Printed Valentine’s Day cards did not become the norm in the U.K until the 1900s.

It is estimated that Americans began exchanging hand-made valentines in the early 1700s; however, mass-produced Valentine’s Day cards didn’t catch on in the U.S until the 1840s, when Esther A. Howland, the “Mother of the Valentine,” began creating elaborate cards that incorporated the familiar lace and ribbons we’re used to today. Valentine’s Day is the second largest card-sending holiday of the year, according to the Greeting Card Association.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

A student news site of Columbia College
Learn the not-so-lovely origins of Valentine’s Day