Valentine’s Day is celebrated worldwide on February 14. People consider it the day of love. It is a special day of the year when couples give each other gifts as a token of their love.
Special events take place all over the world on this day. In several countries there are parties where single people try to find a partner. In other countries people celebrate love. For example, in the Philippines they have been holding a contest for the ‘longest kiss’ for several years now.
Almost the entire western world celebrates Valentine’s Day. But not many people know who that saint actually was, nor why we celebrate Valentine’s Day in his honor.
The truth is, no one really knows for sure. Three possible martyrs gave rise to this celebration. However, everything seems to indicate that the celebration originated with a saint from Roman times.
The Origin of Valentine’s Day
It seems that the origin of the Valentine’s Day celebration was a three-day Roman festival known as Lupercalia. It was a celebration in honor of the fertility goddess, held in mid-February to mark the official start of spring.
During that festival, there was an activity where young men randomly chose a girl’s name. The girl they chose was their girlfriend during the festivities and often these relationships ended in marriage.
With the gradual rise of the Catholic Church, one of its goals was to eradicate these pagan festivals. However, it was not easy as they were deeply rooted in traditions.
Pope Gelasius I decided in 494 AD to associate the festival with the name of a saint, Saint Valentine. He decreed February 14 as the official date for the tribute.
However, he did not register which Valentine he was referring to, as there were three Valentines at the time. One was a Roman convert, the other a bishop, and the other a martyr from North Africa.
The Most Likely Valentine
Most likely, Pope Gelasius I wanted to pay tribute to a martyr of the second century of our era. There are two stories that we can associate with this saint. One story is that he was a Roman physician who converted to Christianity and became a priest.
His story took place in 270 AD, around the time Emperor Claudius II forbade young people from marrying. He thought that if they got married and had children, they wouldn’t make good soldiers.
Valentine, the converted priest, however, found this measure unjust. Therefore, he decided to secretly conclude the marriages of young people, contrary to the orders of the emperor.
Claudius II heard about the “sins” of the priest, thanks to rumors. So the emperor sent for him, and the saint took the opportunity to talk to him about his faith. Apparently he listened carefully to the saint, but the governor of Rome had plotted against him. The emperor finally ordered that he be beheaded.
Another version of the story
Another version of this story tells of a doctor who became a priest and also performed weddings in secret. The difference in this story, however, is that once Valentine was discovered by the Emperor, he ended up in a miserable cell. There he met the jailer’s daughter, who took care of him and accompanied him through that difficult time.
Valentine eventually fell in love with the girl, but just then the emperor was ordered to have him beheaded. He barely had time to write a message to her, but he managed to find time to declare his love for her and signed the message “Your Valentine.”
This is said to be the origin of the first ways to celebrate this festival, which actually involved little more than people writing love letters to each other.
It wasn’t until the 19th century that Valentine’s Day took on many of its current characteristics and traditions. Esther Howland, the daughter of a bookseller, who was impressed by an English Valentine’s card, had a lot to do with this.
She designed several and asked her brother to catalog them as he went to the United States to sell. The idea was a resounding success.
In addition, the now famous Hallmark Cards from Kansas City in the United States decided in 1913 to mass print cards with love messages, which they called Valentines. Since then, the festival has acquired the characteristics we most associate with it today.