The Origin of Valentine's Day
The origin of the most romantic holiday of the year is based in some controversy over
three different Roman tales of romance and mystique. These stories and their traditions
were meshed in the creative mind of Geoffrey Chaucer whose references are the first
record of what is now known as Valentine’s Day. It is worthwhile to note that there
is likely no single tale that adequately explains Valentine’s Day as it is known
today, but rather, the combination of three Roman tales and the romantic ideas of
The Roman Stories
The first story suggests that the Roman Emperor Claudius II deprived his soldiers of the
right to be married, believing that soldiers who married were weak and unreliable.
Valentine, a Catholic Bishop, defied the decree of Claudius II and helped soldiers to
marry in secret ceremonies. Claudius ultimately discovered the actions of Valentine and
had him put to death on February 14, 270 B.C. From this story, a belief in sacrifice for
love is demonstrated.
The second story contains a degree of myth and mystique. It depicts
Valentine in prison as he awaits his execution for his defiance of Claudius II. During
Valentine’s incarceration, he fell in love with the jailer’s blind daughter.
The great piety and faith of Valentine brought a miraculous healing of his love from her
blindness, and she was able to read a note that he had written for her before he died
which read, “From your Valentine.” This story added legend to
Valentine’s death. It also added the element of love notes to the valentine theme,
and what we know today as Valentine’s cards.
A third story describes how Roman sons and daughters were kept
separated in youth. Roman boys and girls were kept apart except when in their teenage
years, they were allowed to participate in the festival of Lupercalia. At this event,
names of teenage girls were written on small pieces of paper that were then offered to
the boys who drew the names in a lottery fashion. Each boy would then be paired with the
girl whose name he had drawn for the duration of the festival. On some occasions this
event would lead to love and eventually marriage for some. This story also contributed to
the exchange of Valentine’s cards as is common today.
Geoffrey Chaucer was an English author and poet who lived from 1343
A.D. to 1400 A.D. Chaucer is most notably remembered for his book “the Canterbury
Tales,” which was a collection of stories about a pilgrimage to the Canterbury
Cathedral. Chaucer also composed other works of poetry including “The Parliament of
Fowles,” which is the first recorded mention of Valentines Day. In this work
Chaucer made reference to the Roman stories and gave credit to Valentine for his devotion
to the cause of love.
The combination of the Roman tales and Chaucer’s reference to
them has given rise to Valentines Day as it is known today. Because Valentine was
executed on the fourteenth of February, Valentine’s Day is also celebrated on this
day to commemorate the bold and romantic tales of Saint Valentine.
From the days of Chaucer, Valentines Day has evolved into a romantic
holiday that still embodies the traditions of the old Roman stories. It is a day to place
emphasis on love and perhaps to even make some kind of sacrifice for love (generally the
sacrifice of money on flowers and candy). The tradition of exchanging Valentine’s
cards, love notes, and poetry continues to this day. In 18th century England, it
was common for boys and girls to draw names from a box to see who their Valentine would
be. This followed the Roman tradition of the festival of Lupercalia.
Another symbol of Roman mythology that has also come to be associated with
Valentine’s Day is Cupid. The Romans believed in Cupid as the god of love. Cupid
was represented as a baby or child with wings, armed with a bow and arrow. The Romans
portrayed cupid as a god interested in spreading love, but who also possessed a tricky
and playful character. The cupid of today is represented with the soul intent of
inflicting love upon people with his magical “arrows of love.” It is said
that anyone struck by Cupid’s arrow will fall in love with the next person they
Interesting Valentine's Day Customs and
Some interesting customs and traditions emerged in relation to Valentine’s Day
throughout the world between Chaucer’s day and the present. Some of them are listed
|Message in a
Girls would sometimes write boys names on small pieces of paper. They covered the paper
with clay and then dropped the clay balls into water. Eventually the clay would wash free
of the paper, and the small note would rise to the surface. The first name to rise to the
top would be considered her valentine.
An odd tradition of some girls was to hold a rose petal in their hand and to slap their
forehead with it. If the rose petal cracked it was considered a sign that the boy she
loved, loved her too.
|Keep the Snow Out
In England it was believed to be a bad omen for young women if they tracked snow into the
house before February 14. This would apparently make it unlikely for them to meet their
valentine at any time soon.
|Leaves on Your Pillow
Young ladies used to believe that if they pinned bay leaves to their pillow on the night
before Valentine’s Day, they would have dreams about their valentine on that
|First Man of the Day
Another tradition for some unmarried ladies was to wake up before dawn, and watch out the
window for the first man who passed by. This man would be or resemble the man they would
marry (although it was likely quite disappointing at times).
Some crafty boys would send their valentines love letters that were signed only with dots
that represented the number of letters in the boy’s name. It was then up to the
girl to guess who her valentine was.
|Heart on Your Sleeve
Similar to the old Roman tradition, boys used to write girls names on papers and put them
in a jar. The boy would then draw one of the girl’s names and wear that name on his
|Loves Me, Loves Me Not
Girls used to pick a daisy and pluck the petals from the flower one at a time saying,
“loves me, loves me not.” If the last words spoken as the final petal was
plucked were “loves me” then her valentine was believed to be in love with
These and other interesting customs developed from the romantic era of
Chaucer into the traditions that are practiced today.
Current Valentines Day Symbols and Traditions
The traditions of Valentine’s Day have evolved through time into what we know
today. Here are some of the common symbols and traditions of Valentine’s Day
|Valentine’s Day Cards
Exchanging Valentine’s Day cards with a valentine, and with family and
Roses are the “standard” flower of Valentine’s Day, but bouquets of
other flowers can also dazzle a valentine.
|Chocolate and Candy
This is the evil double-edged sword. Your valentine will love you for getting it, but
hate you for calorie count.
These are for the more daring and devoted romantic valentines, but with the right touch,
they can truly sweep a valentine off of their feet.
Teddy bears are cute. They will definitely satisfy the “forget me not” issues
of a valentine.
This is a tradition to approach with caution. Chaucer encouraged poetry in a big way, but
if you seek a valentine by this method, you better make it very good.
Cupid is a symbol of Valentine’s Day. Once you are struck by his arrows, there is
no escape from love.
|Going on a Valentine Date
This is a must. Get out and do something with your valentine!
Valentine’s Day As We Know It
In current times Valentine’s Day has become a day to celebrate romantic love and
love for friends and family. Traditions from the Roman stories continue to be practiced
to this day, but with a broader meaning. Love notes and Valentine’s Day cards
continue to be shared by sweethearts, but it is also common for children at school to
share Valentine’s Day cards and candy with friends.
Valentine’s Day has changed somewhat in that it has become a day
when people show those they care about a little more love than they usually do. Although
there are some who despise Valentine’s Day for its commercialism, it can be argued
that there is greater good in the opportunity to express affection for loved ones.
Whether you express your love through dollar signs or simply by loving words, the point
is that you express your love. The true importance of Valentine’s Day is to let
your loved ones know you care.
Try our Valentine's Day
treat: A Family Fun Shop original recipe
"Smore Fudge" is a positively delectable indulgence of melt in your mouth
Try our Valentine's Day Word Puzzles
Download our free "Valentine's Day Crossword Puzzle" (78 KB)
Download our "Valentine's Day Word Search" (77 KB)
We also have gifts for your valentine at our gifts section.
- Article by Wes Fessler
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http://clearlyexplained.com/culture/celebrations/valentines [Accessed 28 June
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[Accessed 28 June 2007]
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