The History of Valentine’s Day

When February rolls around each year, one is always reminded of a certain romantic holiday in the middle of the month: Valentine’s Day. Each person has a different notion regarding Valentine’s Day. Maybe they feel their heart go fuzzy upon hearing the holiday’s name, or maybe they are filled with a sense of dread and longing for a special someone to celebrate with. Either way, Valentine’s Day is a holiday that is not going to go out of style any time soon. With the roses, heart-shaped boxes of chocolate, and giant pink teddy bears, it’s easy to deem this holiday a product of an evil, capitalistic, western culture major corporations created in the modern era to prey on couples who think that to prove their love for one another, by making expensive, romantic gestures on a random day in February. However, Valentine’s Day is a real holiday that started as a quiet celebration of a man, and later turned into the crazy, superficial, cheesily lovey-dovey holiday people think of today. This raises the question: What actually is Valentine’s Day?

Valentine’s Day is the feast day, or celebration, of a man now referred to in Catholicism as Saint Valentine of Rome on the day of his approximated execution. Not much is known about Saint Valentine due to a lack of documentation. There are two common descriptions of Saint Valentine. The second lived approximately 70 years following the first, but they share similar stories regarding how and where they were martyred. The more widely accepted identity of Saint Valentine is story of the first Valentine who lived circa 260s and 270s C.E. as a Roman Catholic priest. (An article will be linked below that will provide a brief summary of the life of the second Valentine, the Bishop of Terni.)

The Roman priest, Saint Valentine, intrigued Emperor Claudius Gothicus with his fame, so the Emperor invited Valentine to his palace in hopes of befriending and influencing the priest to convert to the polytheistic religion widely practiced in Rome at the time. The Emperor was impressed by Valentine’s faith and sent the Roman nobleman Asterius to again attempt to convert Valentine. While under house arrest with Asterius, Valentine performed a miracle on Asterius’ daughter, to help her regain her sight. This miracle convinced Asterius to convert to Christianity, along with all of Asterius’ 44 member household. The Emperor was angered. Valentine also began to marry Christian couples, and aid Christian individuals escaping religious persecution by Emperor Claudius Gothicus. These acts were considered crimes in the Roman Empire. The Emperor sentenced Valentine to death unless he renounced Christianity. Valentine would not so he was martyred by being beheaded on the Via Flaminia, an ancient road leading from Rome to the Apennine Mountains. He is believed to have died on February 14th in the year 269 C.E.

February 14th is now associated with love, as Saint Valentine is the patron saint of love, happy marriages, and engaged or affianced couples. Birds like doves and roses are also commonly pictured on Valentine’s Day cards, as February 14th was thought of as the beginning of spring and the start of (bird) mating season in the Medieval Ages.

So whether or not you buy into the new, modern culture surrounding Valentine’s Day, the next time someone around you says that “Valentine’s Day isn’t a real holiday” you can tell them that it once was and has evolved into whatever it is today.

Don’t forget to wear red, pink, and white on Thursday, February 14, 2019 as part of New West High School’s Spirit half week! Happy Valentine’s Day!

Sources:

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