History Of Valentine’s Day

Valentine’s Day, also known as Saint Valentine’s Day and the Feast of Saint Valentine, is a holiday celebrated on 14 February each year to celebrate romance. It is not a public holiday in any country, but in the UK, almost half the population spend money on their Valentines and around GBP 1.3 billion is spent each year on an estimated 25 million cards as well as other gifts, particularly flowers and chocolates.

history of valentines day

Origins of Valentine’s Day: a pagan festival in February

Valentine’s Day began as a Christian feast day honour Saint Valentinus, but has its roots in pagan roots in the time of ancient Rome. There are three Catholic Saint Valentine or Valentinus, but it is generally accepted that the one honoured by this feast day is Valentine the priest who served during the third century in Rome and defied the decree from Emperor Claudius II. Claudius outlawed marriage for young men, so that they would make better soldiers, but feeling this unjust, Valentine secretly continued to perform marriages for young lovers. When Claudius became aware of what was happening, and when Valentine refused his orders to halt future weddings and refused to renounce his religion, Claudius ordered Valentine be executed on 14 February. Valentine became a saint for refusing to renounce his religion.
Golden Valentine's Day gift vase and rose
In 496 AD, when the church named the 14 February as Valentine’s day, it is suggested that this was done to rename the pagan festival of Lupercalia that had originated from the time of ancient Rome. Lupercalia was a festival that celebrated fertility and was observed on 15 February each year, a date also known as the Ides of March. On this day, according to legend, all the young spinsters in the city would add their names into a large urn. These names were then chosen by the city’s bachelors and they would be paired for the year, which often led to marriage. It is suggested the Pope created the feast day to honour Saint Valentine a day earlier in the hope that Lupercalia would be abandoned. In 1969, the Catholic Church removed the feast days of saints whose historical origins were questionable. St. Valentine was one of those removed from the liturgical calendar.

Valentine’s Day: a day of romance

Lupercalia was outlawed at the end of the fifth century by Pope Gelasius, but it was the during the Middle Ages that Valentine’s day was considered a day of romance as 14 February marked the beginning of the birds’ mating season in France and England.

Written Valentine’s only appeared after 1400. The oldest known valentine was a poem written in 1415 by Charles, Duke of Orleans, to his wife while he was imprisoned in the Tower of London following his capture at the Battle of Agincourt. This is now stored at the British Library in London, England.

Valentine’s Day began to be popularly celebrated in Britain around the 17th century, but it was around the 1750s that it was common for friends and lovers to exchange small gifts or handwritten notes as a show of affection. By 1900 printed cards were a way for people to express their emotions in a time when direct expression was discouraged.

Valentine’s Day in the United Kingdom

valentines day in uk

Early traditions for Valentine’s Day in the UK were for unmarried girls to wake before sunrise on Valentine’s Day since it was believed that the first man they would see on Valentine’s Day would be the person they would marry within a year or someone who looked like him.

Another popular British tradition was for unmarried women to pin four bay leaves to the corners of their pillow and eat eggs with salt replacing the removed yokes the evening before Valentine’s Day so that they would dream of their future husband.

In Britain, the old pagan custom of drawing lots for a partner continued until the beginning of the twentieth century. In Lancashire it was customary for local men and women to draw lots for partners on St. Valentine’s eve. The men would choose a slip of paper from the pot of womens’ names and the women would do the same with the men’s names so that each person received two sweethearts and then had to decide for themselves the partner they wanted.

Today, Valentine’s Day in the UK is celebrated with cards that are sent anonymously. The day is also one for giving gifts. The custom of sending Valentine cards almost died out in the early part of the twentieth century, but was revived in the 1930s and is now highly commercialised.

Traditional gifts include chocolates and flowers. With a single or dozen red roses symbolising love and gratitude.

In a leap year it is customary on Valentine’s Day for women to ask their partner to marry them.