The history of Valentine’s Day is not clear.  Many legends and stories passed down through the ages have made it difficult to pinpoint a definitive beginning.  According to one account, the holiday’s roots are in the ancient Roman festival of Lupercalia which was a fertility celebration commemorated annually on February 15th. This pagan festival was then Christianized in 496 by Pope Gelasius I as a feast day on February 14th and re-named St. Valentine’s Day. However, which St. Valentine the pope was honoring remains a mystery.

St. Valentine – the priest

Most historians believe, however, that the St. Valentine who sparked the church’s interest was a priest who was unlike by the Roman Emperor Claudius II around 270.  According to one legend, Claudius had outlawed the marriage of young men claiming they made better soldiers than husbands. Valentine, however, continued to perform marriages between lovers of all ages and was eventually captured and put to death. Per the legend, before Valentine was executed, he passed a note to his jailer’s daughter with whom he had fallen in love with. The romantic note was signed  “from your Valentine” and so became the first Valentine’s day card.

Was it Chaucer?

The medieval English poet Geoffrey Chaucer often took liberties with history, placing his poetic characters into fictitious historical contexts that he represented as real. Oddly enough, no record exists of Valentine’s Day celebrations (in a romantic sense) prior to a poem Chaucer wrote around 1375. In his work “Parliament of Foules,” he links a tradition of courtly love with the celebration of St. Valentine’s feast day–an association that didn’t exist until after his poem received widespread attention. The poem refers to February 14 as the day birds (and humans) come together to find a mate. When Chaucer wrote, “For this was sent on Seynt Valentyne’s day / Whan every foul cometh ther to choose his mate,” he may have invented the holiday we know today.

Valentine’s cards

Regardless of what legend you believe in, the 18th century began to give way to strong universal tradition. As centuries passed the holiday evolved into a day of gift giving, exchanging handmade cards and displays of love and appreciation. Cards made of lace, ribbon, and pictures of cupid and hearts became more widespread in the United States until the 1850’s when Esther A Howland, a Mount Holyoke graduate and Worchester, Massachusetts native, began mass producing them.

Today, the holiday is now a booming commercial success spanning several industries. In fact, the Greeting Card Association estimates that 25% of all cards sent each year are Valentines.

–       Pearson Education –