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Valentine’s Day, It’s History and Why People Celebrate It

In the late 5th century, Pope Gelasius proclaimed February 14 as St. Valentine's Day, marking it as a day of celebration. Initially, its focus was more on religious observance than romantic gestures.

Valentine’s Day, often linked with romance, actually has an origin that lacks romanticism. Here’s the lesser-known history of the holiday, along with the date for Valentine’s Day 2024, to aid in your planning.

Regardless of your feelings towards Valentine’s Day, its history stretches far back. While it’s now synonymous with kissing, gift-giving, and elusive dinner reservations, its origins are anything but romantic. Delve into the lesser-known history of Valentine’s Day, featuring a saint, a massacre, and even the intriguing tale of the sinful nuns associated with the holiday.

When’s Valentine’s Day

Here’s a quick reminder: Valentine’s Day consistently occurs on February 14. In 2024, Valentine’s Day lands on Wednesday, February 14 – which is today. (But keep an eye out for 2025, when it falls on a Friday!)

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In the late 5th century, Pope Gelasius proclaimed February 14 as St. Valentine’s Day, marking it as a day of celebration. Initially, its focus was more on religious observance than romantic gestures.

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How Did Valentine’s Day Start

Valentine’s Day, a fixed day on the calendar, became intertwined with the ancient Roman festival Lupercalia, celebrated in mid-February. Historians speculate that this association with Lupercalia led to Valentine’s Day becoming synonymous with love. Lupercalia honored fertility and possibly involved a ritual where men and women were paired by drawing names from a container. Additionally, in Ancient Greece, a mid-winter celebration commemorated the marriage of Zeus and Hera.

Why Feb 14

Early Christians frequently chose to commemorate holidays on dates coinciding with existing festivals and celebrations, as seen with Christmas aligning with the winter solstice. Thus, they designated Valentine’s Day on February 14th, distinct from Lupercalia, which fell on February 15th.

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Saint Valentine?

Surprisingly, not a lot. St. Valentine’s Day was initially a feast day in the Catholic tradition, established around 500 AD. It honored martyred saints named Valentine. There were multiple legends surrounding three distinct saints named Valentine or Valentinus. However, due to limited historical information and conflicting accounts, the feast day was removed from the Roman Catholic liturgical calendar in 1969.

Despite the ambiguity surrounding the historical figures of the Saint Valentines, various legends surround the figure of Saint Valentine. One legend recounts how Saint Valentine defied conversion to paganism and was subsequently executed by Roman Emperor Claudius II. Before his death, he performed a miraculous healing on the jailer’s daughter, leading to the conversion of the jailer and his family to Christianity. Another legend attributes the origin of the holiday to a bishop named Saint Valentine of Terni, who also faced martyrdom.

According to another interpretation, Saint Valentine, a Roman priest, became associated with a love-centered holiday for a different reason. He reportedly conducted weddings for soldiers who were prohibited from marrying under a Roman emperor’s decree, which deemed married soldiers less effective in combat, thus forbidding young men from marrying. Saint Valentine wore a ring adorned with Cupid, symbolizing love, enabling soldiers to identify him. Additionally, akin to early greeting cards, he distributed paper hearts to reinforce Christians’ devotion to God.

As a result of this legend, Saint Valentine earned the title of the patron saint of love. The Saint Valentine prayer entreats Saint Valentine to unite lovers so they may become one, while also reminding the couple of their dedication to God.

While the Saint Valentine narrative laid the foundation for establishing the day as a holiday for romantic love, the definitive link between Saint Valentine and love was cemented by a poem penned by medieval author Geoffrey Chaucer in 1375. Historians regard this poem as the origin of the “modern” celebration of Valentine’s Day, where we commemorate our romantic bond with one special person.

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