The History of Valentine’s Day

Each year on February 14th, people all over the world celebrate love. Whether you have a date with someone special or you acknowledge the people in your life that you love the most, Valentine’s Day gives us a chance to recognize these special relationships. But how did our current day traditions begin? Following is a brief history of Valentine’s Day:

Lupercalia Was an Ancient Roman Festival

Although many people believe that Valentine’s Day began with the legend of Saint Valentine, the celebration itself actually has pagan roots. Originally, February 13th through 15th was celebrated as a pagan festival called Lupercalia that took place in Ancient Rome. The festival was dedicated to Faunus, an ancient Italian deity worshipped as a bestower of fruitful fields, and Romulus and Remus, the two founders of Rome. Male participants of the Lupercalia would choose a women’s name from a jar. The pair would be coupled for the duration of the festival (with the hope of warding off evil spirits and infertility) and often stayed together until the following year’s festival. Some even married.

Pope Gelasius Outlawed Lupercalia

Although Lupercalia survived the initial rise of Christianity in Rome, Pope Gelasius I eventually banned it in 5th century AD. Gelasius believed that festivals, such as Lupercalia, took the focus away from Christianity and caused people to fall back on their pagan roots. However, the Pope also knew that he needed to replace the old festival with something new. So, he decided that February 14th would be the day that we would celebrate Saint Valentine. Although some medieval historians refute that Pope Gelasius was the one to replace Lupercalia with a Saint Valentine celebration.

Saint Valentine Illegally Married Couples

So who was Saint Valentine exactly? All that we really know is that Saint Valentine was martyred and officially recognized as a saint. It is widely known that he was a Roman Christian priest during the days of Emperor Claudius, who persecuted Christians. Claudius forbade priests from marrying couples in the church, and tried to encourage polygamy. Valentine believed that these couples had a Christian right to spend their lives together, so he married them anyway – without the Emperor’s approval. He was eventually beheaded.

Valentine’s Day as a Symbol of Love

Although Saint Valentine was honored as early as the 5th century, it did take time for this day to become synonymous with love. Eventually, Valentine’s actions of marrying couples behind the Emperor’s back became legendary, and people began to associate his special day as one that came to represent love itself. The idea of two people getting married on the sly, thanks to Saint Valentine’s actions, is something that strikes a chord with people. Over time, the holiday became a day for people to express their love to one another. However, it has been all too easy to celebrate Valentine’s Day without acknowledging who Saint Valentine was. He lost his life not only because of his Christian beliefs, but also because he believed in love enough to defy an emperor.

As we celebrate Valentine’s Day, it’s important to remember where the celebration actually came from. As we shower our loved ones with affection and Valentine’s Day gifts this year, remembering the sacrifices of Saint Valentine can help bring new meaning to the day.

Interested in why we celebrate other holidays? Read The Story Behind the Day of The Dead and The History of Halloween in the United States.

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