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by Maddox Starr (8th grade)

Today is Valentine's day. The holiday relates to the tantalizing, complex feeling of love that we all wish to have… but in reality, Valentine’s Day refers to not love but capitalism and purchasing as many roses and hallmark cards as possible. But how did the holiday come to be what it is today? Why is there a flying naked baby who makes people fall in love? Why do we buy a lover a terrible chalky candy in the shape of an organ? Like most events in history, it’s murky.

The Origins

Although the story of Valentine's day is disputed, many agree that it began like any capitalist European holiday, a Pagan* holiday. The first holiday resembling Valentine's day would be the ancient Roman celebration of Lupercalia. 

Lupercalia was the celebration of the she-wolf and the Roman god of fertility, Lupercus. The celebration consisted of the Roman custom of sacrificing multiple animals and participating in many interesting superstitious activities with the animals. The celebration also included the “fun” activity of a lottery where men and women were paired together by a name being pulled out of a jar.

The festivities of Lupercalia continued to be celebrated among the followers but around the same time, Christianity was emerging.

Enter: St. Valentine(s)

According to legend and hearsay, St. Valentine was said to be a Bishop who broke the rules created by Emperor Claudius II. The Emperor believed that a soldier with family would be weaker than with no significant other so he banned young men from marriage. St. Valentine was outraged so he secretly married the young men and women. With that, St. Valentine was murdered but the Catholic Church mourned.

Even though St. Valentine could have been two people, the holiday was still celebrated in the Catholic church and almost created a sense of love in the holiday due to the fact that the saint was marrying couples.

With Catholicism becoming the dominant religion, it had the power to end and create any holiday.  Not wanting to support Pagan rituals, in the 5th century C.E, Pope Gelasius I banned Lupercalia and replaced the date with St. Valentine’s day. Some ideas of Roman Mythology still stayed however such as the god of love, Cupid. 

Modern Valentine’s Day

Even after the combination, Valentines day was still not the holiday we all know and love. The idea of associating the holiday with love began when the English Poet, Geoffrey Chaucer, wrote that February was the time in which birds found their mates. Some scholars also speculate that the Norman Holiday of “Galatin’s” day or “Lover of Women Day” may have been mixed up with Valentine’s day as it sounds phonetically similar.

With the idea of Valentine's day becoming more associated with love, the idea of sending messages and trinkets to someone’s significant other began in the middle ages. It wasn’t until the Industrial Revolution that cards became more and more manufactured and used. In the early 20th century, a small company by the name of Hallmark began to capitalize on the idea.

Valentine's day is not just a day of gifts, but a day of love. The feeling that was spread throughout the February season since the time of the ancient Romans until now. Although the idea of Valentine’s day has changed, from a pagan holiday, to a mourning holiday, to a capitalist holiday, it shows that ideas can stick all throughout history and so can the love of your significant other.

* “Pagan” in this case refers to the minor polytheistic religions of the time. This included Roman mythology.

Images Used:

“St. Valentine.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Accessed 13 Feb. 2023.