Tuesday, February 9

The History Behind Valentine's Day Traditions

Every February, across the country, candy, flowers, and gifts are exchanged between loved ones, all in the name of St. Valentine. Who is this mysterious saint and why do we celebrate this holiday? 

Who is St. Valentine?

The history of Valentine’s Day — and its patron saint — is shrouded in mystery. St. Valentine’s Day, as we know it today, contains vestiges of both Christian and ancient Roman tradition. The Catholic Church recognizes at least three different saints named Valentine or Valentinus, all of whom were martyred – none of whom were associated with roses OR chocolate.

Most scholars believe that the St. Valentine of the holiday was a priest who served during the third century in Rome. During this time, around 270 A.D., emperor Claudius ll prohibited marriages for young men, claiming that bachelors made better soldiers. Valentine continued to secretly perform marriage ceremonies but was eventually apprehended by the Romans and ordered by Claudius to be put to death. But his courageous blessing of the bonds of love may have earned him a notable place in history.

Another legend has it that Valentine, imprisoned by Claudius; fell in love with the daughter of his jailer who visited him during confinement. Before he was executed, he allegedly sent her a letter signed “from your Valentine” an expression that is still used today. We could say this marked the very first Valentine’s Day.

Possibly the most plausible story surrounding St. Valentine and his day is one not focused on Eros(passionate love) but on agape (Christian love): he was martyred for refusing to renounce his religion. Subsequently, his love for his god may have gone down in history.

Our final possibility for the origins our our holiday: It could be that we celebrate Valentines Day on the 14th because this is the day that St. Valentine died. However, some believe that the celebration of Valentines Day was an attempt by the Church to civilize the celebration of the pagan Lupercalia festival – held on the 15th of February. Lupercalia was a fertility festival dedicated to Faunus, the Roman god of agriculture, as well as to the Roman founders Romulus and Remus. Pope Gelasius declared February 14 St. Valentine’s Day around 498 A.D. The Lupercalia festival was deemed un-Christian and outlawed.

Valentine’s Greetings

The oldest known valentine gift still in existence today was a poem written by Charles, Duke of Orleans to his wife while he was imprisoned in the Tower of London. The greeting, written in 1415, is part of the manuscript collection of the British Library in London, England. According to the Greeting Card Association, an estimated one billion valentine cards are sent each year, making Valentine’s Day the second largest card-sending holiday of the year. (An estimated 2.6 billion cards are sent for Christmas.) 

By the seventeenth century, handmade cards were oversized and elaborate, while store-bought ones were smaller and costly. In 1797, a British publisher issued ‘The Young Man’s Valentine Writer’, which contained scores of suggested sentimental verses for the young lover unable to compose his own.

Printers had already begun producing a limited number of cards with verses and sketches, called “mechanical valentines,” and a reduction in postal rates in the next century ushered in the less personal but easier practice of mailing valentines. That, in turn, made it possible for the first time to exchange cards anonymously, which is taken as the reason for the sudden appearance of racy verse in an era otherwise prudishly Victorian.

The burgeoning number of obscene valentines caused several countries to ban the practice of exchanging cards. In Chicago, for instance, late in the nineteenth century, the post office rejected some twenty-five thousand cards on the ground that they were not fit to be carried through the U.S. mail.

The first American publisher of valentines was printer and artist Esther Howland. Her elaborate lace cards of the 1870s cost from five to ten dollars, with some selling for as much as thirty-five dollars. Since that time, the valentine card business has flourished. With the exception of Christmas, Americans exchange more cards on Valentine’s Day than at any other time of the year. Just thinking about it brings memories of red construction paper, and little boxes of heart candies that say ‘Be Mine’!

And Who is this Cupid?

Another valentine icon you may be wondering about is Cupid (from Latin cupido, “desire”). In Roman mythology Cupid is the son of Venus, goddess of love. His counterpart in Greek mythology is Eros, god of love. Cupid is often said to be a mischievous boy who goes around wounding both gods and humans with his arrows, causing them to fall in love. The Romans believed white roses grew where the tears of Venus fell, as she mourned the loss of her beloved Adonis. Her son Cupid, while being stung by a bee, shot arrows in the rose garden; the sting of the arrows became thorns. Venus pricked her foot on a thorn, and the droplets of blood dyed the roses red.

Sending Roses on Valentine’s Day

Why should you send roses to your loved one this Valentine’s Holiday? The rose is the symbol of love, of magic, of hope, and of passion….perfect to let your loved one know how you feel about him/her! The rose represents ultimate beauty and perfection. It is the messenger of Romance!

A dozen red roses remains the classic Valentine’s Day favorite (ok, it’s a toss up between roses and chocolate). However, many women report that they adore roses in other colors just as much. There are hundreds of colors to choose from. The choices are endless and it’s easier than ever to select a rose that is as unique as your sweetheart.

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Pick up the entire History Behind Our Holidays unit study bundle!

Includes eight American holidays. Each unit has introductory text, which will give the student the holiday’s history and customs.

  •  Introduction
  •  Valentine’s Day
  •  St. Patrick’s Day
  •  Easter
  •  Mother’s Day
  •  Father’s Day
  •  Halloween
  •  Thanksgiving
  •  Christmas

In addition to text, there are featured videos, which augment the background information and help make the topic more accessible for more visual students. You will also find a short list of reading books and fun hands-on activities!


Every year I go searching for holiday activities for my kids. Sometimes I spent hours trying to find fun activities for my kids. So this year, I joined forces with some of my fellow homeschool bloggers to bring you some super fun Valentine’s Day Activities for Kids. Check them out!

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