- Happy Valentine’s Day!
- Origins in the Ancient World
- St. Valentine
- Birds in Love
- Vinegar Valentines? (Plus flowers, chocolates, and jewelry!)
- Enjoy Valentine’s Day 2022
- Links to Fun Activities
Happy Valentine’s Day!
We love to love love on Valentine’s Day! The history of this holiday is very old — today it’s a straightforward celebration of romance, but it wasn’t always like that. The jury’s out on whether Valentine’s Day began as a pagan fertility ritual or for remembering St. Valentine. It was most likely a bit of both.
Origins in the Ancient World
In mid-February, the ancient Romans would celebrate the fertility holiday, Lupercalia. This was a Roman festival geared towards celebrating both Rome (by honoring the founders, Romulus and Remus), the goddess of marriage (Juno), as well as the god of agriculture (Faunus). The festival wasn’t romantic by modern standards. The Romans would sacrifice animals, which was thought to make them more fertile. Then the Roman men would pick single women’s names out of an urn, to pair up for the festival and likely get married later on. Yep. The ancient world was pretty strange.
The Greeks had gotten in on this party even earlier. They didn’t care that much about February, but they did celebrate love. The Greek god of love, Eros, is what the Roman god of love, Cupid, is based on. Eros was said to be vain and handsome; he shot golden arrows at others to make them fall in love (and lead-tipped arrows to make people dislike each other!). If this sounds familiar, it should! That’s where we get the modern legend of Cupid.
Of course, the Greeks and Romans weren’t the only ones with traditions of love. In fact, if you look for the origins of Valentine’s Day, you’ll find multiple Christian saints who went by Valentine or Valentinus! They are said to have helped innocent Christians escape jail and/or to have married soldiers when doing so was illegal.
According to legend, while one of the Saint Valentines was in a Roman prison, he cured the jailer’s daughter of blindness. He then wrote a love letter to her, signing it: From your Valentine. True or not, you can’t help but feel for St. Valentine–a guy just trying his best to rescue people, and then falling in love. In the legend, they didn’t meet a good end: he was killed in mid-February.
And that may be why Valentine’s Day is in mid-February. Or… the Church “adopted” the pagan holiday Lupercalia, by making the pagan festival illegal in the 5th century and replacing it with St. Valentine’s Day. Take your pick, but it’s probably a combination of the two!
Birds in Love
Though February 14th was now St. Valentine’s Day, it took quite a while before it resembled the modern holiday. It became a bit more light-hearted in the Middle Ages. People started to think of Valentine’s Day as when birds started to find their mates for the season!
This English and French tradition gained steam around 1382 when the poet Geoffrey Chaucer wrote Parlement of Foules (that’s in Middle English—it would now be written Parliament of Fowls). In it he wrote about birds seeking love on St. Valentine’s Day.
Over in France, King Charles VI in 1400 started the Charter of the Court of Love. This wonderfully named group would meet each February 14th to sing original love songs in a competition.
Vinegar Valentines? (Plus flowers, chocolates, and jewelry!)
Modern Valentine’s Day has its roots in the 1600s, where people across the world really started celebrating the holiday for love and romance. People would exchange small tokens, like chocolates or spoons! The Victorians adored the holiday. Many used the day to send love letters to people, which is great. But others sent “vinegar valentines”: the cards would be insulting or sarcastic, or would be a break-up message. Historians think that half of the Victorian Valentine cards were actually these negative ones! Very few survive today–we imagine the recipients weren’t too happy to receive them.
The holiday also became commercialized over time. The American Esther Howland has the wonderful title of the Mother of the Valentine, as she began making mass-produced valentine cards in the 1840s. Western Europe took to sending Valentine’s cards quickly, though it was only after the Civil War that it became popular in the United States.
But popular it became. So much so that a billion Valentine’s Day cards are delivered each year, and so many flowers are bought for February 14th that it totals 13% of annual flower sales in the US. That’s not even touching on the jewelry and chocolates!
Enjoy Valentine’s Day 2022
Many people say that, especially with the Covid-19 pandemic, this holiday is more important to celebrate than ever. No matter how Valentine’s Day has evolved, it’s wonderful to spend time with someone you love.
Links to Fun Activities
Valentine’s Day theme page
Have fun with the holiday with our Valentine’s Day Theme page — crafts, decorations, worksheets, activities, and printouts.