February fourteenth is the date that most Americans exchange love messages with romantic partners by sending flowers, red roses, poems, cards, diamonds, jewelry, candy—especially chocolate,—and other gifts and gestures of romance. While the holiday known as Valentine’s Day is one of the most commercialized holidays in the United States (with nearly 14 billion US dollars spent on gifts and dinner), the origin of the holiday is not clear.
There are many stories about how the day might have gained popularity. These stories include tales of many different patron martyrs named Valentine. Wikipedia says that the origin of Valentine’s Day started in Ancient Rome as a Pagan holiday called Lupercalia and was later taken over by Christians in the fifth century when Pope Gelasius declared Feb 14th as Saint Valentine’s Day.
According to History.com, there is a legend about a man named St. Valentine who lived under the reign of Emperor Claudius II during the third century AD. Claudius forced young men into the military to fight for his cause. This separation of young lovers caused the men to become so grief-stricken and forlorn that they were unable to fight. Therefore, the Emperor banned marriage altogether. It is purported that a defiant priest known as Father Valentine thought the emperor’s ban was unjust and thus, he began marrying couples in secrecy. When the emperor found out about it, he arrested Valentine and sentenced him to death. The young couples whom Valentine had married, visited him in prison where they brought him flowers and notes to show their appreciation. It is said that Valentine fell in love with the jailer’s daughter. Before he was executed on February 14, he sent the woman a note signed “From your Valentine” and thus the tradition began.
Valentine's Day is also mentioned in the writing of William Shakespeare by one named Ophelia in Act IV, Scene 5 of Hamlet (1600-1601):
To-morrow is Saint Valentine's day,
All in the morning betime,
And I a maid at your window,
To be your Valentine.
Then up he rose, and donn'd his clothes,
And dupp'd the chamber-door;
Let in the maid, that out a maid
Never departed more.
Another story told about St. Valentine’s Day dates back 3,000 years to the handsome Roman god of love known as Eros. Greek mythology has it that Eros carried a bow and shot people with gold or lead arrows. The gold arrow signified true love, and the lead arrow represented sensual passion. Cupid was later claimed by Christianity as an angelic cherub. The cupid with his bow and arrow is an icon on many cards and gifts given on Valentine’s Day.
The custom of sending Valentine’s cards became popular in America and Great Britain in the nineteenth-century. When you are sitting near the fireplace enjoying a glass of wine with your lover, it really doesn’t matter when, how or where Valentine’s Day originally began. Love is here to stay.