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Origins of St. Valentine’s Day

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Valentine’s Day, also known as Saint Valentine’s Day, is a day that continues to signify love of all kinds and for every age. It’s on this day that people send their loved one(s) a small gift or token to amplify their feelings of affection. Sweethearts exchange flowers, chocolate, and jewelry in the name of St. Valentine. But have you wondered why we celebrate love in the name of this saint?

While our modern Valentine’s Day is influenced by the Christian martyr, the earliest possible origin of the holiday relates to the Roman pagan holiday “Lupercalia.” The Festival of Lupercalia spanned two days each year, from the 13th to the 15th of February. The process was for the priests to sacrifice two male goats and a dog at the beginning of the festival. Then two young Luperci were anointed with the blood from the animals and the hides of the animals were cut into straps. While the festivities went underway, food and drink flowed through the city. And the male priests would run around the city wearing nothing but thongs made from the animal skins, carrying a strap from one of the sacrificed animals. They used the strap to strike the palms of Roman women waiting for the priests in the city, as it was believed that being hit with the strap could help with infertility issues. For women that were already pregnant, the strike provided safe and healthy labor ahead for them.

Now the Christian influence on Valentine’s Day comes around the 5th century. Though the Roman Empire was still strong, Christianity was rapidly taking hold on the world. Emperor Claudius of Rome wanted his army to remain strong, but it was becoming difficult to get men to join the army. So during the 3rd and 4th centuries, Claudius forbade young men who were eligible for military service to get married. This is where Saint Valentine comes in. Valentine, realizing the injustice of the law, defied Claudius and performed marriages for young couples in secret. When Valentine’s actions were discovered, Claudius ordered that he be put to death. He was arrested and dragged before the Prefect of Rome, who condemned him to be beaten to death with clubs and beheaded. The sentence was carried out on February 14th, around the year 270 AD. For his service, he was named a saint after death. Legend has it that while in jail awaiting his death, he wrote a letter to his girlfriend and signed it, “From Your Valentine.”

But how did we get to what we know as modern Valentine’s Day? The date of St. Valentine’s death became mingled with the Festival of Lupercalia, for some time. Then in 496 AD, Pope Gelasius decided to put an end to the Festival of Lupercalia, and instead declared that February 14th be celebrated as St. Valentine’s Day. Slowly throughout time, the date became one to celebrate love and affection for one another in simple ways, such as exchanging flowers, chocolates, and poems.

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Nowadays Valentine’s Day sure looks much different than it used to! We now lavish each other with symbols of our love, however, one defines that! Many of us try to plan a special occasion for our significant other, while a lot of us take the day to cherish the friends and family around us. Love spans far and wide and there are no rules on how you should express it! So cherish your loved ones in a way that fits you this Valentine’s Day.

Assistant Editor Summer Hampton contributed to this story.

Summer Hampton
Summer Hampton
Summer Hampton is a graduate of the University of South Florida with a bachelor's degree in communication focused in culture and media. She is Poynter ACES certified in editing through the Poynter Institute, with a certificate of book publishing obtained through the University of Denver.
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