The History of Valentine’s Day

A Valentines Card Created by Esther Howland. Photo courtesy of

A Valentine’s Card Created by Esther Howland. Photo courtesy of

Valentine’s Day: the holiday of love.

This holiday, typically associated with hearts, red, candy, and dating, is an event whose origins have been much debated. One source, which many have claimed to be the origin of Valentine’s Day, is the Roman celebration known as the Lupercalia, the celebration of the wolf. 

In ancient Italian mythology, the legendary Romulus and Remus, grandsons of heroes, were taken and raised by a she-wolf. Romans celebrated in honor of the she-wolf’s memory. The slang word for prostitute, a worker of the sexual love, sharing an etymological root with the word for wolf too lends credence to this theory.

A particular aspect of her jubilee was the running of naked men and women whose touch was meant to bring fertility and good luck. This tradition was one of many performed during the turning of the seasons from Winter to Spring. 

On the subject of the Romans, the martyrdom of Valentine by emperor Claudius II Gothicus in the 3rd century Common Era is yet another possible influence on the holiday. As patron saint of lovers, his Italian heritage easily put his divine status in close proximity to Cupid, the manifestation of love, in Roman mythos. After all, the word romance does mean “of the Romans.” 

When the first celebration of Valentine’s Day occurred still eludes scholars to this day.

All that is known is Lupercalia was deemed apostasy in the 5th century Common Era by Pope Gelasius I. For centuries following, local traditions replaced the holiday. A tradition recognizable today is the start of the medieval European bird mating season. Taken from the Slovenian calendar, it was believed that the 14th of February marked the beginning of Spring. As a result, love would rush forth in the air, and the birds would begin to sing their enchanting melodies. 

The symbolism was not lost on medieval Europeans. Birds were a long-standing tradition in literature and art as a symbol of love amongst others. The phrase “lovebirds” to describe those in a relationship or the famous song lyric “sitting in a tree, K-I-S-S-I-N-G” are notable today. And sometime about the 16-17th centuries, these traditions started to coalesce into a single holiday in Britain.

The giving of small tokens of affection, such as cards or candies, was commonplace by the 18th century. Yet, the question of how such minor gestures became a multi-million dollar industry still cannot be explained alone.

So must the sentimentality of the Victorian era when mixed with hyper-capitalism be examined. The American Esther A. Howland began marketing her handcrafted cards as the truest displays of affection. Three years into the reign of Queen Victoria, a prim and proper English society smelled that love was in the air. Quickly, the cards took hold over the United States and United Kingdom. 

Inevitably, the craze caused hundreds of different entrepreneurs, looking to make cash quickly, to join in. Howland faded into obscurity soon thereafter. Her cards, however, did not. Valentine’s Day now had a commodity that could be sold easily. Thus, the holiday was subsumed into the gullet of capitalist hands. Cards and carbs are sold in droves around the month of February. In an age where one must work to survive, the new tradition of buying a stuffed bear, a box of chocolates, and a mass produced red envelope has seen no end. 

But even in the toxic atmosphere that is ultra-consumerism spiced with dreadful dating ethics, there shall always be love. There shall always be love, true love, for friends, family, and partners. Cherish all around oneself and remind them this February 14th that they, and they alone, hold your heart in thrall.

Happy Valentine’s Day