Why Do We Celebrate Valentine’s Day?

By Kristi Eckert | 4 months ago

valentine's day

It’s no secret that in the United States Valentine’s Day is a “Hallmark holiday.” It gives the retail industry an opportunity to maximize profits at a time of year when sales typically sag because people are still trying to recover from the debt they racked up from purchases they made during the holiday shopping season. According to Statista, last year people in the United States spent a collective $22 billion on items for the holiday. Despite the commerciality that surrounds Valentine’s Day, it is still widely embraced and celebrated. Romance is infectious, who wouldn’t light up at the sight of a collection of flowers and chocolates that are meant to express how much your sweetheart loves you. Even if you don’t have someone in your life, those big hearts stuffed with those deliciously divine gourmet chocolates are still a great way to treat yourself to a personal indulgence. 

However, Valentine’s Day has become so intertwined with the superficiality of popular culture that the reason why we started celebrating it in the first place has seemingly been lost to time. Thus, we decided to look into Valentine’s Day’s origins, where the holiday actually came from, and the reason why we still celebrate it today. We were surprised by what we uncovered. 

MYSTERIOUS ORIGINS

Valentine's day

Valentine’s Day is named after the Catholic Patron Saint Valentine, however, the problem is that it remains a mystery as to exactly which St. Valentine, as there are three by the same name in the Catholic region, all of which have their own legends from which the earliest celebrations of Valentine’s Day could potentially have spawned. Some believe that the holiday is named for a priest who lived in 3rd century Rome under the rule of Emperor Claudius II. The legend has it that after Claudius II banned marriage for young men because he believed that they would better serve his military if they did not have families, Father Valentine continued to marry young couples in love despite the new law. He was eventually executed for his purported crimes. 

Other legends suggest that Valentine’s Day’s namesake was Saint Valentine of Terni who was a bishop that lived during the same time as the priest who helped young couples get married. He too was executed under Claudius’ rule, but it remains unclear why. A popular theory is that he was executed for helping early Christians escape from prisons and that at some point had become a prisoner himself during which time he fell in love with the daughter of one of the Jail workers. Before his death, he expressed his love for her in a note and signed his heartfelt confession with “From Your Valentine.” If this version is true, then Valentine’s love letter could be considered the very first “Valentine.” 

PAGAN FUSION

Even though it remained a question as to which St. Valentine was the actual patron of love he quickly became one of the most popular saints, particularly in England and France. And it is widely believed that due to his popularity people began to honor him on the anniversary of his death by celebrating his connectedness to romantic symbolism. However, it is likely that Valentine’s Day came to be officially celebrated in the middle of February as a result of the Catholic Church’s efforts to convert followers of Paganism to Christianity. 

Every February 15th Pagans would celebrate Lupercalia. Lupercalia was a festival during which rituals were performed in hopes that they would make women more fertile in the coming year. Lupercalia was eventually outlawed, and in the 5th century, Pope Gelasius officially named February 14th as St. Valentines Day. Additionally, The Pagan religion was not the only one to influence what Valentine’s Day would become. Cupid, who is also a well-known symbol of the holiday, was inspired by Eros, the Greek God of love.

However, the earliest celebrations of Valentine’s Day as we know it today didn’t start to crop up until the Middle Ages. It was during this time that it came to be firmly associated with romance. The English poet Geoffrey Chaucer is credited for making mention of the first modern Valentine’s day in his 1375 poem Parliament of Foules.

VALENTINES DAY TODAY

Despite its mysterious origins, and rather confusing history, Valentine’s Day has come to be widely celebrated all over the world, It is recognized most prominently in the United States as well as Canada, Mexico, the United Kingdom, France, and Australia. All around the world, there are different traditions associated with Valentine’s Day. Here in the United States, we exchange flowers, cards, and chocolate. However, in France, they take it to a whole other level. There, lovers adorn their sweethearts’ houses with love letters, flowers, and an array of other decorations in grand gestures of sheer adoration, further proving just why France is known as the world’s romantic epicenter. Whatever your own Valentine’s Day tradition may be, the day itself is truly a testament to humanity’s natural inclination to express love to the people they hold dear.