St Valentine’s Day, A bit of History

What is the History?

About this Activity

St Valentine’s Day

is celebrated in many places around the world on February 14th every year.

It is a day when you express your affection for others by exchanging cards and gifts like chocolate and flowers (particularly red roses). Couples may celebrate with a nice romantic evening out.

Valentine’s Day is celebrated annually in America, Australia, parts of Europe, Canada, and parts of South America. It is also observed in South Korea and the Philippines where mass weddings are sometimes held on this day. Many people propose marriage on this day and it is second only to Christmas in card giving popularity.

This holiday has its origins in the Roman holiday of Lupercalia, a festival that celebrated the coming of spring and included fertility rites and pairing women with men by means of a lottery.

Pope Gelasius declared February the 14th as Valentine’s Day in the early 5th Century, replacing Lupercalia.

During the Middle Ages, there was a common belief in France and England that this date was the start of the birds mating season which added to the idea that St Valentine’s Day should be a day of romance.

So who was St Valentine? Well, the jury seems to be out on this one.

The Catholic Church recognizes at least three different martyred saints called Valentine. One of them was performing marriages for soldiers in secret after it was decreed that single men made better soldiers and marriage was forbidden. Another Valentine was reportedly in prison when he fell in love with the jailer’s daughter and wrote the object of his love a letter, signed “From your Valentine”.

Valentine’s card tradition did not start until the 1400s and the cards were handwritten, sometimes containing poetry. Our present-day printed ready-made cards appeared in the 1900s and started to replace the handwritten ones in popularity.

Common motifs on Valentine cards are Cupid, the Roman god of love and hearts, which are commonly associated with emotion. Birds are also often featured on the cards.

Sometimes the cards are sent anonymously and the recipient has no idea of who has sent them. Apparently, in Victorian times, it was deemed to be unlucky to sign the card.

Cards are not only sent to people where there is romantic love involved. These days it is common to give a card to a person you like or love, like a friend, teacher or relation. Even your dog or other pet is likely to get a gift this day!

Valentine’s Day has become a very commercial event. It is a very lucrative industry to be in as many million are spent each year on gifts and cards.

Finally, did you know?

  • The earliest known Valentine message was written in the 15th century by a Frenchman, the Duke of Orleans, imprisoned in the Tower of London, to his wife:

Je suis desja d'amour tanné Ma tres doulce Valentinée... It is held in the manuscript collection of the British Library.

  • Valentine's Day is mentioned by Ophelia in Shakespeare's Hamlet (Act IV, Scene 5):

Tomorrow is Saint Valentine's day, All in the morning betime, And I a maid at your window, To be your Valentine.

For crafts ideas go to our St Valentine's day page. Sources: