The History of Valentine's Day

By Joseph Regan | 2/12/16 7:48am

Valentine’s Day is weird. It is like every other holiday in that there are things you are supposed to eat (chocolate), supposed to do and supposed to send to people. But V Day doesn't celebrate something that happened in the past, nor is it a religious holiday. Instead it celebrates love, and the worldwide campaign to misinform people about the heart’s actual shape. There are one billion valentines sent every year!


Well, before there was overpriced chocolate and wilted flowers every February, there was St. Valentine. Ironically, his life was rather depressing. Valentine’s Day is believed to have arisen from one of two possible St. Valentine stories.

The first tells that Valentine was a Roman priest and soldier. During his time,Emperor Claudius II had an idea—an unusually stupid one. Emperor Claudius decided to outlaw marriage for young men, because he believed single men fought better than married men. Shockingly, this did not go over well. Think prohibition, except instead of banning alcohol they banned… well, you get the picture. Anyway, St. Valentine recognized the injustice (read: idiocy) of this measure and defied the emperor, marrying young love-struck couples left and right. When he was find out, Claudius ordered St. Valentine put to death. People, it turns out, will do anything for love. Bruno Mars will catch a grenade, ancient Romans will risk execution and millions of single people will try to eat their loneliness away.


The second story of St. Valentine goes a little differently, although he still ends up executed by the Romans. They must have really not liked this guy. In this version, St. Valentine, our good-hearted hero, attempts to help the Christians in harsh Roman prisons. Of course, he ends up getting captured and imprisoned himself. And of course, he falls in love with the jailer's daughter. This guy is like the original Hollywood tragic hero. So what is he to do but send her--you guessed it--a card professing his love? Whether she read it and spoke to him before his execution is unclear. Historical fancy holds that the card read: “From your Valentine.” Keep this in mind the next time you're writing out a Valentine'sDay card, and thank your lucky stars the Romans aren’t around anymore. Although, Safety and Security seems like it's making a run to be their stand-in this term.


After his demise, Valentine would become one of the most popular saints in France and England during the Middle Ages. Charles, the Duke of Orleans, wrote a valentine card to his wife in 1415 while imprisonedin the Tower of London. Something about prison apparently sparks the romantic urge. King Henry V, really trying to up his game, hired a writer to compose a valentine to Catherine of Valois.


Esther Howland, an American woman in 1840, had the brilliant idea of mass producing Valentine’s Day cards. Evidently things have declined since then, seeing as her creations were elaborate, handmade lace confections.


All photos courtesy of Twitter

Joseph Regan