Valentine’s Day is celebrated globally, but the story behind it is less commonly known. The legend of Saint Valentine is shrouded in mystery and the link to romance seems non-existent. So how did Valentine’s Day come to be? Let’s dive back in time and revisit this 2000-year-old history.
The true identity of Saint Valentine was never uncovered, however the Catholic Church recognised that it could have been one of three men – all of who shared the name. Unfortunately for them, they were all dealt the same fate – martyrdom.
The legends begin in 269 AD when Roman Emperor Claudius II ruled. He decided single men made better soldiers than those with wives and families, so he outlawed marriage for young men.
A priest called Saint Valentine – often disputed as the Bishop of Terni – defied this injustice by performing marriages for young lovers in secret. Eventually, Valentine’s acts were discovered and Claudius ordered he be put to death.
Another crime Valentine may have committed to result in martyrdom was helping Christians escape harsh Roman prisons where they were often beaten and tortured.
Once imprisoned, Valentine supposedly formed a relationship with the daughter of his jailer, and if legend is to be believed, he healed her blindness.
As a result, her whole house converted to Christianity, which sealed his fate in the eyes of his jailer. As the legend goes, he was tortured and beheaded on February 14. His farewell letter to the loved was signed “From your Valentine”, possibly the first Valentine ever sent.
Although Valentine’s true identity is unknown, the stories all portray him as a compassionate, heroic and romantic figure. His reputation would echo through the centuries and he would become one of the most popular saints in France and England in the Middle Ages.
When does this get romantic?
Valentine’s Day replaced the ancient festival Lupercalia which celebrated fertility and health. The holiday was deemed un-Christian by the Pope in 496 AD and was replaced with the Feast of Saint Valentine to honour the late Christian martyr.
It would be 900 years until the day was once again associated with love when the English poet Geoffrey Chaucer wrote a poem in the 14th century acknowledging Valentine’s Day as a romantic celebration.
This sprouted inspiration and soon people began to write poems known as “valentines” to their lovers. The romance was further fuelled by the mating season for birds falling at a similar time, connecting the ‘love birds’ of early spring to the date.
In 17th century England, couples began to express their love for each other by giving flowers, confectionery and sending greeting cards known as ‘valentines’. Over time, this idea kept growing in popularity, eventually bringing us to the love-soaked day it is today.
Does the whole world celebrate Valentine’s Day?
Nowadays, Valentine’s Day is extremely popular, particularly with young couples in countries such as the US, UK and Australia, but it is celebrated all around the world.
In the Philippines, Valentine’s Day is the most popular day to get married and is the most popular day for couples to celebrate their anniversaries.
But some countries there have been attempts to stop or limit people celebrating Valentine’s Day, with varying degrees of success.
In more recent years, a challenger has risen to meet Valentine – Singles Day. Starting in 1993, this holiday has grown more and more popular every year and offers a day for those not in a relationship to treat themselves, get together with friends and celebrate being single.
The day was created in China and takes place on November 11, double 11. It’s now the biggest online shopping day in the world – four times bigger than Black Friday or Cyber Monday.