Valentine’s Day is celebrated by millions of people each year. On the 14th of February, many people buy flowers and gifts for loved ones. But when did this tradition start? And why do so many people celebrate Valentine’s Day?
Who is St. Valentine?
Despite St. Valentine being one of the most well-known saints, little is known about his history and how Valentine’s Day began. February has traditionally been a month of romance, which goes some way to explaining the date of Valentine’s Day.
Part of the problem is that there are three official saints with the name of Valentine. All of these saints were martyrs, and the Valentines of Rome and Terni are officially honored on February 14th. A third saint called Valentine, who was martyred in Africa, is also mentioned in records.
One of the most likely legends is that Valentine was a priest who lived sometime between 300 A.D. and 400 A.D. in Rome. When the Emperor forbid single men from getting married because he thought they made better soldiers, the legend says that Valentine continued to marry couples in secret. Eventually he was discovered and put to death.
An additional part of this story is that Valentine, on the eve of his execution, sent a card to himself after falling in love. This is said to have been the first Valentine’s card, and was signed “From your Valentine.” Whether there’s truth to this story, or any of the legends surrounding Valentine’s Day, is difficult to tell.
When Was Valentine’s Day First Celebrated?
Valentine’s Day became associated with romance during the Middle Ages. It’s likely that the day was recognized before this, but probably not in a romantic way. It wasn’t until the 15th century that the day began to be associated with love between couples. During this time the first Valentine’s cards were sent, and lovers expressed their affection with flowers and other gifts.
Mass production of Valentine’s Day cards didn’t begin until the 19th century. Today, the holiday is surrounded by a huge commercial industry. It’s estimated that 25% of all cards sent each year are sent on Valentine’s Day.
It’s not known why the 14th February was chosen to celebrate Valentine’s Day. Some people believe this was the anniversary of the saint’s death. Others believe it was chosen by the church to interfere with a pagan ritual that occurred on the 15th.