The Best History of Valentine’s Day for Students: Full Guide 2024

History of Valentine's Day


history of Valentine’s Day

Valentine Day, also known as Saint Valentine’s Day or the Feast of Saint Valentine, is celebrated annually on February 14th. It has become a significant cultural, religious, and commercial celebration of romance and love in many parts of the world [2].

The Legend of St. Valentine:

  • The history of Valentine’s Day is shrouded in mystery, but it is believed to have originated from both Christian and ancient Roman traditions [1].
  • The Catholic Church recognizes at least three different saints named Valentine or Valentinus, all of whom were martyred [1].
  • One legend suggests that Valentine was a priest in Rome during the third century. When Emperor Claudius II outlawed marriage for young men, Valentine continued to perform marriages for young lovers in secret. When his actions were discovered, he was put to death [1].
  • Another legend suggests that Valentine may have been killed for attempting to help Christians escape harsh Roman prisons [1].
  • Before his death, it is alleged that Valentine sent the first “valentine” greeting to a young girl he fell in love with, signing it “From your Valentine” [1].

Origins of Valentine’s Day: A Pagan Festival in February:

  • Some believe that Valentine’s Day is celebrated in the middle of February to Christianize the pagan celebration of Lupercalia, a fertility festival dedicated to the Roman god of agriculture and the founders of Rome [1].
  • Lupercalia involved rituals where Roman priests would sacrifice a goat and a dog, and then use the goat’s hide to gently slap women and crop fields, as it was believed to make them more fertile. The festival also included matchmaking where young women would place their names in an urn and be paired with bachelors for the year [1].

Valentine’s Day Meaning: A Day of Romance and Love:

  • The association of Valentine’s Day with romantic love began during the Middle Ages when it was believed that birds began mating on February 14th [1].
  • The English poet Geoffrey Chaucer was the first to link Valentine’s Day with romantic celebration in his poem “Parliament of Foules” [1].
  • Valentine greetings became popular in the Middle Ages, and the oldest known valentine still in existence today is a poem written in 1415 [1].
  • In the 18th century, Valentine’s Day became an occasion for couples to express their love through flowers, confectionery, and greeting cards [1].

Who Is Cupid?

  • Cupid, often portrayed as a naked cherub, is a Roman god of love with roots in Greek mythology as the god Eros. He is associated with inciting love and is depicted as a mischievous child on Valentine’s Day cards

1. Origins in Ancient Rome:

Valentine’s Day, as we know it today, has its origins in ancient Rome. While the exact origin of the holiday is not known, there are a few theories about its beginnings. The most common explanation is the ancient Roman festival of Lupercalia, which was a fertility rite celebrated from February 13 to 15 [2].

During Lupercalia, Roman men and women would participate in raucous and wine-fueled festivities. The men would sacrifice a goat and a dog, and then use the hides of these animals to whip women. It was believed that being whipped by the hides would make the women fertile [2].

The festival also included a matchmaking lottery, where young men would draw the names of women from a jar. The couple would then be paired up for the duration of the festival, and sometimes even longer if the match was right [2].

The name “Valentine’s Day” may have originated from the execution of two men named Valentine on February 14 of different years in the third century. Their martyrdom was honored by the Catholic Church with the celebration of St. Valentine’s Day [2].

2. St. Valentine’s Day:

St. Valentine’s Day, also known as Valentine’s Day, is a holiday celebrated on February 14th each year. It has both religious and cultural significance, and it is widely recognized as a day to celebrate love and romance. Here is some information about the significance and celebrations of St. Valentine’s Day:

History of Valentine's Day

  1. Origins and Legends:
    • The exact origins of St. Valentine’s Day are unclear, but it is believed to have roots in both Christian and ancient Roman traditions [2].
    • The Catholic Church recognizes at least three different saints named Valentine or Valentinus, all of whom were martyred [2].
    • One legend suggests that Valentine was a priest in Rome during the third century. He defied Emperor Claudius II’s decree against marriage for young men and continued to perform marriages in secret. When his actions were discovered, he was put to death [2].
    • Another legend states that Valentine may have been killed for helping Christians escape Roman prisons [2].
    • It is also believed that Valentine sent the first “valentine” greeting himself, writing a letter signed “From your Valentine” to a young girl he fell in love with while imprisoned [2].
  2. Cultural Celebrations:
    • St. Valentine’s Day has become a significant cultural celebration of romance and love in many regions of the world [1].
    • The holiday is commonly associated with the exchange of love notes, cards, flowers, and gifts between romantic partners [3].
    • In some countries, such as the United States, Canada, Mexico, the United Kingdom, France, and Australia, it is a popular holiday celebrated by people of all ages [3].
    • Many people also celebrate by going out for romantic dinners, watching movies, or spending quality time together [3].
    • In schools, children often exchange valentine cards and gifts with their classmates [3].
  3. Symbols and Traditions:
    • Cupid, the Roman god of love, is a popular symbol associated with St. Valentine’s Day. Cupid is often depicted as a cherubic figure with wings, armed with a bow and arrow, which he uses to inspire love [3].
    • Hearts, traditionally considered the seat of emotion, are another common symbol associated with the holiday [3].
    • Red roses are often given as a symbol of love and beauty on Valentine’s Day [3].
    • Chocolates, candies, and other sweet treats are also popular gifts exchanged on this day [3].

3. Chaucer’s Influence:

Chaucer’s Influence on Valentine’s Day

History of Valentine's Day

Geoffrey Chaucer, the renowned 14th-century poet, is widely credited with associating romantic love with Saint Valentine and influencing the connection between Valentine’s Day and love.

Other poets, including Oton de Granson III and John Gower, followed Chaucer’s lead and began using the feast of St. Valentine for their romantic purposes. Poets like William Shakespeare and John Donne also continued Chaucer’s tradition in their poetry, further cementing St. Valentine’s reputation as a patron of romantic love [3].

The tradition of exchanging observance love tokens on Valentine’s Day became popular in the 19th century, with cards featuring poems, love birds, hearts, and Cupid becoming common [3].

4. Literary Traditions:

Literary Traditions Associated with Valentine’s Day:

  1. Geoffrey Chaucer’s “Parliament of Foules”: Geoffrey Chaucer, an English poet, was the first to record St. Valentine’s Day as a day of romantic celebration in his 1375 poem “Parliament of Foules.” In this poem, Chaucer writes about birds gathering on St. Valentine’s Day to choose their mates [1].
  2. Shakespeare’s Plays: William Shakespeare, the renowned playwright, incorporated references to Valentine’s Day in several of his works. In “The Two Gentlemen of Verona,” one of the leading characters is named Valentine, and the play explores themes of love, friendship, and mistaken identities. In “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” Valentine’s Day is mentioned in relation to the tradition of birds choosing their mates. Additionally, in “Hamlet,” Ophelia sings a folk song about Valentine’s Day, which reflects the tragic nature of love [2].
  3. Elizabeth Gaskell’s “Mary Barton”: In Elizabeth Gaskell’s novel “Mary Barton,” set in industrial Manchester, a valentine plays a significant role in the story. Mary Barton receives an anonymous love note, which leads to various events and tensions within the narrative. The valentine symbolizes both innocence and the complexities of love in a gritty setting [2].

5. Mass Production of Cards:

Mass production of Valentine’s Day cards began in the mid-1800s in the United States, thanks to the efforts of Esther Howland, also known as the “Mother of the American Valentine” [1]. She played a significant role in defining the modern tradition of exchanging Valentine’s Day cards. Here is a breakdown of the history and development of mass-produced Valentine’s Day cards:

History of Valentine's Day


  1. Esther Howland’s Contribution:
    • Esther Howland created the first commercially mass-produced Valentine’s Day card in the United States in the mid-1800s [1].
    • She started making valentines in 1848 using an assembly-line operation and advertised her business in 1852 [2].
    • Some of her early cards, impressively detailed and small in size, are preserved in a temperature-controlled vault [2].
    • Jotham Taft, another entrepreneur, also started a valentine business in the 1840s, and later, Taft’s son and Howland merged their businesses, forming NEVCo in 1879 [2].
  2. The Whitney Valentine Company:
    • In 1863, brothers George and Edward Whitney established the Whitney Valentine Company in Worcester, Massachusetts [2].
    • The company began producing valentines and other greeting cards by machine during the 1880s [2].
    • The Whitney Valentine Company prospered until 1942 when the wartime paper shortage led to its liquidation [2].
  3. The Impact of Mass Production:
    • Mass production of Valentine’s Day cards revolutionized the industry, making cards more affordable and accessible to the general public [1].
    • The tradition of exchanging Valentine’s Day cards became widespread and continues to be a popular practice today.


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