The history behind Valentine’s Day

Leslie Bonilla, Reporter

Valentine’s Day. The name brings to mind a lot of pink paper hearts, past crushes, and of course, the amazing chocolate sales after it is over. But how did it start out?

Most sources agree that its earliest roots stem from an ancient Roman festival called Lupercalia, celebrated in what is now the middle of February. Based on fertility, it involved tapping or hitting women and crop fields with animal hides in the belief that the process would give them fertility. So how did we get from there to our present-day conglomeration of confections?

The legend goes that at the end of the fifth century, a pope named Gelasius wanted to Christianize Lupercalia, a pagan festival. He therefore named the day that Lupercalia fell on St. Valentine’s Day. However, it still was not associated with love yet, and who even was St. Valentine?

The answer is murky. says that the Catholic Church recognizes twelve different people named Valentine as saints. Three of them were martyred in 3 AD, so any one of them could be the true Saint Valentine. People like to tell the tale of a Valentine who was incarcerated for presiding over soldiers’ marriages at a time when it was forbidden for soldiers to be married. While in jail, Valentine healed his jailer’s daughter and sent her a note. It was signed, of course, “your Valentine.” Or so goes just one version of the story.

Whoever St. Valentine was, his day only began to be associated with love in the Middle Ages. Geoffrey Chaucer’s “The Parliament of Fowls” holds the first ever reference of love in relation to St. Valentine’s Day. According to Borgna Brunner, it was tradition for poets at the time to associate important occasions with a feast day. Chaucer wrote it for an engagement, and chose to link it to St. Valentine’s Day. The poem further popularized the idea of Valentine’s Day as the day of love. By the 1600s, people in England were giving each other small trinkets and cards, and in the 1700s, the holiday made its way to America. In 1913, Hallmark started mass producing Valentine’s Day cards, and the rest is history.

Today, it’s a global holiday. People everywhere celebrate with their significant others, or use it to justify buying lots of sweets. Elementary students have small parties in school where they exchange cards and candies. It’s kind of ironic, having our day of love named after someone who wasn’t even the patron saint of love (Valentine is the saint of beekeepers and the plague, among other things), but it gives people a good excuse to express their love for the people they care about.