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Valentine’s Day through the years

VDAY image

When you exchange gifts and messages this Valentine’s Day, you’ll be participating in an event that has its origins in Ancient Rome. And while a lot of us think it’s just an excuse to inflate the prices of red roses, restaurant meals and chocolate, there’s actually a lot more to Valentine’s Day.


Who was Saint Valentine?

There is some conjecture amongst historians as to who Saint Valentine actually was, but the popular belief about Saint Valentine is that he was a priest from Rome in the 3rd Century AD.

The story goes that Emperor Claudius II had banned marriage because he thought married men made bad soldiers. A man named Valentine felt this was unfair, so he broke the rules and helped to arrange marriages in secret.

When Emperor Claudius found out, Valentine was thrown in jail and sentenced to death. While he was in jail it is said that he fell in love with the jailer’s daughter. And when he was taken to be executed on February 14, he sent her a love letter signed “from your Valentine”, a now timeless expression that lives on today.

How did Valentine's Day start

It was in the 5th Century AD that Pope Gelasius declared February 14 Saint Valentine’s Day, and since then February 14 has been a day of religious and romantic celebration. Some historians have also speculated that a Roman festival called Lupercalia, which occurred in mid-February, was also an early Saint Valentine’s celebration.

Some have also said that as part of the Lupercalia celebrations, boys drew names of girls from a box and they’d be matched up for the festival and many of them would get married.

However, there are also historians who argue that Lupercalia was actually a bloody, violent celebration awash with animal sacrifice and random matchmaking in the hopes of warding off evil spirits and infertility.

Either way, we can all be glad that over the ensuing years Saint Valentine’s Day became a day for people to express their feelings to those they love.

Early 'Valentines' messages

Fast forward a handful of centuries to the 1500s and formal messages, or ‘Valentines’, started being circulated on February 14. By the late 1700s, commercially printed Valentines cards were being used. The first commercial ‘Valentines’ were printed in the mid-1800s in the United States.

Symbols of the modern-day Valentine’s Day commonly depict Cupid, the Roman god of love, along with hearts, traditionally the seat of emotion. Because it was thought that the avian mating season begins in mid-February, birds also became a symbol of Valentine’s Day. Traditional Valentine’s Day gifts, such as chocolates and flowers, particularly red roses, were later adopted as a symbol of beauty and love.

No matter the origins of Valentine’s Day, February 14 has undoubtedly become the greatest day of the year for expressing your love for others. Happy Valentine’s Day 2020.

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