When we think of Valentine’s Day, we often think of red roses, candy in heart-shaped boxes, mushy valentines, and winged cherubs flying about shooting starry-eyed lovers with arrows. But did you know that the origin of Valentine’s Day, or Saint Valentine’s Day, comes from the life and death of a man who died rather than giving up his faith?

The historical origins

According to author Martha Zimmerman, the date traditionally celebrated as Valentine’s Day finds its origin in the Roman festival of romance called Lupercalia, when the gods Juno and Pan were honored. It was a fertility festival or a lover’s holiday looking forward to the return of Spring. In the fifth century, in an attempt to abolish the pagan festival, Pope Gelasius changed Lupercalia and its February 15 date to February 14 and called it Saint Valentine’s Day. Even though the names and the date were changed, the emphasis continued to be on love. Why?

Some authorities credit Geoffrey Chaucer with originating the custom of linking Valentine’s Day with lovers. No link between the day and lovers exists before the time of Chaucer, thus leading some to conclude that it was this famous English author who connected the day with lovers. The fullest and earliest description of the tradition occurs in Chaucer’s “Parliament of Fouls” composed around 1380. Since that time it has been traditional to connect St. Valentine’s Day with love.

Who was the real Valentine, and why did he have a day named after him?

Valentine was a Roman Christian who, according to tradition, was martyred during the persecution of Christians in the third century by Emperor Claudius II. The only thing certain about the day we remember as St. Valentine’s Day is that it commemorates a martyrdom. Claudius II declared all Christians illegal citizens. By his definition, they were guilty of treason because Roman citizens were required by law to worship the Emperor by declaring publicly, “Caesar is Lord!” Of course, this is something no Christian could do.

Tradition states that prior to his death, Valentine continued to minister in prison by witnessing to his prison guards. One of the guards was a good man who had adopted a blind girl. He asked Valentine if his God could help his daughter. As the tradition goes, Valentine prayed and the girl was given her sight. When the Emperor heard about this, he was furious that Valentine was still making converts even in prison, so he sentenced Valentine to death.

Just before being led out to his execution, Valentine wrote a note to the jailer’s daughter, signing it, “From your Valentine.” The first valentine was really an expression of faith. Growing out of this story we participate in a custom of sending cards to people we love.

Over time the word “Saint” has been dropped from St. Valentine’s Day, further obscuring the origins of this holiday.

Valentine’s Day is a day to express your love in action, not to emphasize how much you spent

Instead of chubby cherubs, sappy cards, too much candy, and soon-wilted flowers, why not point your family toward the true significance of St. Valentine’s Day this year? Re-inject it with the original intent and meaning.

It is all about unconditional love ... the kind of love you’d give your life up for. It is not about spending money on cards and gifts, but spending a part of your time and self for someone else you care about. Celebrate it by doing a good deed for someone, or thinking of someone you love first before considering your own wants. Visit the sick or lonely and show them a little love and attention.

Give of yourself in honor of the man for whom the day is named.




This article was written by: Issues I Face

Photo Credit: Maira Gallardo