The Not-So-Romantic History of Valentine's Day

Valentine’s Day: the one day of the year that celebrates romance and love above everything else. Stereotypically, it can either make you feel like you’ve got it all or like you’ll be alone forever (cue Bridget Jones singing ‘All By Myself’). But amongst all the hearts and cards and kisses, what are the real origins of Valentine’s Day and what exactly is all the fuss about? 


Valentine's Day

The feast of Saint Valentine, celebrated every year on February the 14th, where people across the world celebrate love, friendship and romance.


What is Valentine's Day?

Valentine’s Day, or February the 14th, is a day dedicated to lovers everywhere, where gifts and affection are exchanged. If there’s ever a day to reveal to somebody that you love them, this day is the one. 

When is Valentine's Day?

Valentine’s Day always falls on February the 14th and it’s been that way for a long time: at the end of the 5th century, Pope Gelasius officially declared February the 14th Saint Valentine’s Day.

This year, Valentine’s Day falls on Tuesday the 14th 2023, giving you the perfect amount of time to go out for a romantic dinner or a movie date with your loved one, or curl up at home with your friends.

When did Valentine's Day begin?

February seems to have been a month all about love for a long time. In fact, the origins of Valentine’s Day are often confused with ancient Roman calendar called Lupercalia, a holiday in mid-February. Some historians think that Lupercalia became what is now Valentine’s Day, though this is disputed. What we do know is that Lupercalia celebrated fertility, including a ritual where men and women chose names from a jar and were partnered accordingly. Similar to this is an Ancient Greek celebration in mid-winter, where people threw parties for the marriage of the god Zeus and the goddess Hera.

At the end of the 5th century, Pope Gelasius I banned Lupercalia, replacing it with Valentine’s Day. But in actual fact, the holiday as we know it now didn't properly start until the 14th century.

Who is Saint Valentine?

Once again, history fails us. Saint Valentine’s identity is disputed - some believe he was a priest who was became a martyr in about 270 CE by the emperor Claudius II Gothicus. Legend has it that the priest signed a letter “from your Valentine” to the daughter of his jailer, whom he befriended. Some versions of the story also say he healed her from blindness.

Valentine’s Day has also been associated with Saint Valentine of Terni, a bishop who was also martyred, and a Roman priest, who performed weddings for soldiers who were forbidden to marry.

Why do we celebrate Valentine's Day?

Whoever Saint Valentine was, myth became reality in 1381, when Geoffrey Chaucer wrote a poem called ‘The Parliament of Fowls’, which describes a group of birds gathering to choose their mates for the spring. From then on, February the 14th was always associated with a whole lot of lovin'.

So whilst all the tales we hear about this illusive Saint Valentine don’t appear to be connected with love, it was Chaucer who cemented the link between Valentine’s Day and romance forever. Whether you’re celebrating with somebody special this year, spending the night with friends and family, or enjoying some well-deserved me-time, just remember…Valentine’s Day became the day of love because of an old-time poet.

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