Origins of Valentine's Day

By Anisha Mohin | 2/14/12 1:57pm


Valen­tine's Day rolls around every Feb­ru­ary — some of us love it, some of us hate it and some of hate it most years, but love it when we have a sig­nif­i­cant other to spend it with (guilty!). This year, I'm hat­ing on Valen­tine's Day, but that's not the point.

Where did this over-com­mer­cial­ized hol­i­day, one that seems to be more about candy and flow­ers and pre­sents than true love, even orig­i­nate? Was it al­ways like this? Not so much.

Ac­cord­ing to history.​com, the his­tory of Valen­tine's Day is shrouded in mys­tery, but it is com­mon knowl­edge that Feb­ru­ary has long been cel­e­brated as a month of ro­mance. St. Valen­tine's Day, as it is for­mally known today, has roots in both Chris­t­ian and an­cient Roman tra­di­tion. The ques­tion is, who ex­actly was Saint Valen­tine?

Ac­cord­ing to the Catholic Church, there were at least three dif­fer­ent saints named ei­ther Valen­tine or Valenti­nus, and all of them were mar­tyred.

Some sto­ries sug­gest that Valen­tine may have been ex­e­cuted for help­ing Chris­tians es­cape harsh Roman pris­ons, where they were often beaten and tor­tured. One leg­end sug­gests that an im­pris­oned Valen­tine was the first one to send a "valen­tine" greet­ing after he fell in love with a girl who vis­ited him dur­ing his con­fine­ment. Be­fore his death, he sup­pos­edly wrote her a let­ter signed "From Your Valen­tine."

Valen­tine may also have been a priest who served dur­ing the third cen­tury in Rome, dur­ing the time when mar­riage was il­le­gal for young men be­cause Em­peror Claudius II be­lieved sin­gle men made bet­ter sol­diers than those with wives and fam­i­lies. Ac­cord­ing to this tale, Valen­tine de­fied Claudius, con­tin­u­ing to per­form mar­riages for young lovers in se­cret, and so he was put to death.

We many never know which, if any, ver­sions of the his­tory are true, or if there is an­other Valen­tine out there who truly orig­i­nated the hol­i­day. Still, it's clear that the roots of Valen­tine's Day are pretty ro­man­tic — and pretty tragic.

Maybe it's got­ten kind of cheesy and com­mer­cial­ized, and like I said, I'm kind of hat­ing on the hol­i­day this year. But there's no deny­ing that tak­ing some time out of your day to let some­one spe­cial, whether a boyfriend, girl­friend or best friend, know that you care about them is a pretty good tra­di­tion to honor. And, to put things in per­spec­tive, as my friend said: "Don't com­plain too much if you find your­self sin­gle on Valen­tine's Day, it's not the end of the world. That sh#t is still 10 months away."

Anisha Mohin