History of St. Valentine’s Day: Where’s the Romance?

1480 image depicting St Valentine performing marriage

Context

It would appear from legend that both lived during the reign of Emperor Claudius II (Gothicus) around 270; both died on the same day. Both were buried on the Via Flaminia but at different distances from the city of Rome. A third Valentine was a martyr in the Roman province of North Africa about whom little is known. This Claudius the Cruel had banned his soldiers from getting married, believing that unmarried members were more reliable on foreign military campaigns. Valentine was beaten and beheaded because he secretly married soldiers to their wives, contrary to the ban.

Roman background to St Valentine’s Day

In the days of early Rome, a great festival was held every February called Lupercalia, held in honor of a god named Lupercus. During Rome’s founding days, the city was surrounded by an immense wilderness in which were great hordes of wolves. The Romans thought they must have a god to watch over and protect the shepherds with their flocks, so they called this god Lupercus, from the Latin word lupus, a wolf. One of the amusements on this festival day was placing young women’s names in a box to be drawn out by the young men. Each young man accepted the girl whose name he drew as his lady love. It remains unknown whether the customs of Lupercalia are perpetuated on Valentine’s Day.

Romance and St Valentine’s Day

Chaucer

Customs of St Valentine’s Day

Practices and customs have changed throughout the years; during Christian times, the priests put saints’ and martyrs’ names into boxes to be drawn out. The name drawn out was called one’s “valentine,” and the holy life of that person was to be imitated throughout the year. It was at one time the custom in England for people to call out:

St. Valentine’s Day Cards

Valentine’s Day Card

Candy

Valentine’s Day is the second-priciest holiday on the US calendar: they spend $27.4 billion each year, $2.4 billion just on candy. On average, celebrants spend almost $200 on the day, $100 on a couple’s dinner out. Men spend three times as much as women. Money is spent on flowers, jewelry, and candy… but especially chocolate. 58 million pounds of chocolate are purchased in the seven days leading up to Feb. 14

Writer and technologist. Author of fascinating articles about history, tech trends, and pop culture. billpetro.com @billpetro

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