The History of Valentine’s Day

Photo by Jenny Xu
Photo by Jenny Xu

Every year on February 14th, candy, cards and gifts are given to a special someone in honor of this festival of love. While known for it’s tradition of sending gifts and celebrating love, not many people are aware of how this day of romance came to be.

Valentine’s Day dates all the way back to the 5th century, remembering St. Valentine as a heroic and romantic figure. When Emperor Claudius II outlawed the marriage of young men, St. Valentine continued to perform marriages in secret, as he believed that the banning of marriage for young lovers was unfair. He was jailed and ordered to be executed by Claudius once his actions were exposed. One popular legend suggests that St. Valentine actually fell in love with his jailor’s daughter, and wrote her a letter signed “From your Valentine” before his death. These three words became a popular expression that are still in use today.

Written Valentine’s Day notes are common today, but that tradition didn’t start until over a thousand years later, in the 1400s. By the mid 1800s, it became custom to send small tokens and handwritten notes to friends and those one had a courtship with. Esther A. Howland was known as the “Mother of the Valentine” and began mass producing and selling intricate, beautiful cards made of lace and ribbon.

Although this holiday originated from Ancient Rome many years ago, today it’s celebrated all over the world, from France to Australia. “I think it’s really interesting and important to learn about the history of one of our most important holidays,” 8th grader Claire Burton said.

It is estimated that a total of 1 billion cards are bought and delivered each year, putting Valentine’s in second place for the most popular card-sending holiday, after Christmas. With it’s unique history and traditions, Valentine’s Day is surely one of our most meaningful holidays.