In a twist of irony, a holiday that’s come to represent chocolates and romantic dinners had fairly bloody beginnings. Though it’s colloquially shortened, February 14th is actually St. Valentine’s Day.
The Catholic church has three different Valentines (or Valentinus), all with different stories, though the most common origin story involves St. Valentine of Terni, who was martyred for marrying couples after Claudius II outlawed marriage in an effort to protect his army’s recruitment efforts.
Regardless of which saint is the “real” Valentine, Pope Gelasius laid the foundation for Valentine’s Day as we know it today by combining his saint’s day with Lupercalia in the fifth century. A Roman fertility festival, Lupercalia was celebrated from February 13–15th with a series of fertility-focused rituals including a sacrifice, ritual tapping of women with bloodied goat hides, and a couple “lottery” of sorts in which men randomly picked women’s names out of an urn.
Though Valentine’s Day began with tales of martyrdom and sacrifice, the weight of its meaning slowly began to shift back towards fertility and eventually love. During the Middle Ages, Chaucer and Shakespeare romanticized the holiday in their works—and it was commonly believed that February 14th was the beginning of birds’ mating season. Written Valentines first appeared in Europe during the 1400s, and Americans began exchanging them with fervor during the 1700s.
In 1913, Hallmark began producing the first Valentine’s Day greeting cards, which kicked off an insatiable demand for all things LOVE. Today, more than 1 billion cards are sent worldwide during the month of February.
Looking for a decidedly more peaceful way to celebrate the holiday? Come and get your LOVE (bracelet, that is).