- Romance can be synonymous with Valentine's Day, but the root of the holiday isn't romantic. Here's the past you do not know of Valentine's Day, plus what Valentine's Day 2021 is so that you can prepare accordingly.
If you love or hate Valentine’s Day, one thing is clear: the past of Valentine’s Day goes way back. And while Valentine’s Day is now known for kissing him, presents for Valentine’s Day, and reservations for dinner that are difficult to get, the roots of the holiday are much less romantic. Here is the history of Valentine’s Day that wouldn’t make it a rom-com, featuring (seriously!) a saint, a massacre, and even sinful Valentine’s Day nuns. Before you start shopping for Valentine’s Day presents for kids, this is everything you need to know about the true roots behind the February 14 holiday.
When is Valentine’s Day?
First, a brief refresher: on February 14, Valentine’s Day always falls. Sunday, February 14, is Valentine’s Day 2021, and Friday, February 14, is Valentine’s Day 2020. (Valentine’s Day 2022 will be Monday, February 14, for those wishing to make major plans.) Pope Gelasius proclaimed February 14 as St. Valentine’s Day at the end of the 5th century, and since then, February 14 has been a day of celebration (religious or romantic).
How did Valentine’s Day start?
Valentine’s Day is a fixed calendar day, and even before St. Valentine’s, the ancient Roman calendar had a holiday in mid-February. That holiday (possibly the root of Valentine’s Day), called Lupercalia, celebrated fertility and may have included a ceremony in which by selecting names from a jar, men and women were paired off. People observed a mid-winter festival in ancient Greece for the union of the god Zeus and the goddess Hera. Some scholars wonder if the way we now celebrate February 14 might have been inspired by these rituals.
Who the holy Valentine was? (And what does he have to do with the heart of chocolate?)
Not a lot, it turns out. A feast day in the Catholic religion, introduced to the liturgical calendar about 500 AD, was Saint Valentine’s Day. The day was commemorated by martyred saints called, you guessed it, Valentine. (Thanks, Pope Gelasius!) Three different saints named Valentine or Valentinus are celebrated in different legends, but because very little was understood about these men and there were contradictory accounts of the story of Saint Valentine’s Day, the feast day was removed from the liturgical Christian calendar in 1969.
But even though the real history of the Saint Valentines on which the holiday is based is little known, the legend of Saint Valentine has many stories. One legend says that Saint Valentine refused to convert to paganism, and Emperor Claudius II of Rome executed him. He was able to miraculously cure his jailer’s daughter, who then converted to Christianity along with his family, before his death. Another legend says that the real namesake of the holiday is a bishop named Saint Valentine of Terni; the Saint Valentine was also executed.
But according to some, and this is how Saint Valentine became synonymous with a love-focused holiday, Saint Valentine was a Roman priest who married soldiers forbidden to marry because of an edict of the Roman emperor decreeing married soldiers who did not produce good warriors and could not marry young men. This Saint Valentine wore a ring, a token of devotion, with a Cupid on it that helped soldiers remember him. And he gave out paper hearts to remind Christians of their respect for God in a precursor to greeting cards.
St. Valentine is known as the patron saint of marriage because of this legend. The prayer of Saint Valentine asks Saint Valentine to bind lovers so that they become one, and that the couple remember their devotion to God.
While the tale of Saint Valentine laid the foundations for establishing the day as a romantic love holiday, what really reinforced the relationship between Saint Valentine and love was a poem by medieval author Geoffrey Chaucer in 1381, which historians consider to be the root of the “modern” Valentine’s Day celebration, where we celebrate our romantic partnership with one other person.
Why do we celebrate Valentine’s Day?
When wide, romantic declarations of devotion-poems, songs, paintings-celebrated partnership, Chaucer lived in the Middle Ages, the era of courtly love. By the end of the 15th century, the term “valentine” was used in poetry and songs of the day to describe a lover, and a book called The Young Man’s Valentine Writer was written in England in the 18th century. Mass-produced paper Valentine’s Cards were being developed by the mid-19th century (although Valentine card concepts are still worth trying), and Valentine’s Day was born as we know it.
The reality about the past of Valentine’s Day is that romantic vacations are not prone to trauma. Seven men were killed in the 1929 Chicago Prohibition by a gang organized by Al Capone on February 14. In the past of Prohibition, the Valentine’s Day Massacre became a flashpoint, with police and politicians going after the gangs and crowds that had formed to regulate then-illegal drugs such as alcohol in towns.
What’s the significance of Valentine’s Day?
Valentine’s Day has become a religious festival throughout the years (and centuries), an ancient ritual day, and a commercial holiday. All that shift implies that the essence of Valentine’s Day is really whatever you want it to be: you can totally miss the festivities, buy some chocolate or flowers for yourself, or show your love and gratitude for the people in your life, whether they’re bosses, romantic partners, relatives, or family members. Galentine’s Day (and Galentine’s Day gifts) is a relatively new way of celebrating, as women stock up for her on Valentine’s Day ideas and celebrate their love for their closest friends. Some people love Valentine’s Day, and some people just love to hate it.
If you’re trying to find out what to do on Valentine’s Day, just know that there are no rules: it’s a new era, and even if it’s just by self-love, you can celebrate the day of love any way you want. There are also perfect ways to celebrate a fun dinner out, go to the movies, cook a fancy meal at home, or throw a Valentine’s Day party; whatever you do, if you have a romantic partner, just make sure you’re on the same page to prevent any disappointments or hurt feelings.