The History of Valentine’s Day

Giuliana Carmosino

What do you think of when you think of Valentine’s day? Possibly a significant other? Flowers, bears, heart shaped chocolates and sweet treats? Maybe a date with your favorite tv show? No matter what Valentine’s day means to you personally, what does it actually mean, and why is it a day that is worth celebrating? Valentine’s day is widely celebrated in the United States on February 14th. Candy, flowers, and many other gifts are exchanged between loved ones all over the nation, all in the name of St. Valentine. But who is this saint, and where did all of these traditions come from? 

The Legend of St. Valentine

February is known as a month of romance in honor of St. Valentine. This day as we know it has fragments of both Christan and Ancient Roman traditions. The Catholic church recognizes at least two different saints : Valentine, Valentinus, all who have been martyred. One legend states that Valentine was a priest who served during the third century in Rome. When Emperor Claudius ll decided that single men made better soldiers than those with wives and families, he outlawed marriage for young men. Valentine, realizing the injustice of the decree, defines Claudios and continues to perform marriages for young lovers in secret. Others seem to think that Saint Valentine was a bishop who was the true holder of the namesake of the holiday. Other stories state that Valenine may have been killed for attempting to help Christains escape harsh Roman prisons where they were often beaten and tortured. One legend states that an imprisoned Valentine actually sent the first “valentine” greeting himself after he fell in love with a young girl. It was rumored that before his death he wrote a letter signed “from your valentine,” which is an expression that is still heavily used today. Although there are many different stories and legends based around Saint Valentine, each one emphasizes his appeal as a sympathetic, heroic and most importantly a romantic figure.


Cupid is often seen as a naked cherub who is seen launching arrows at unsuspecting lovers. But, the Roman God Cupid has his roots in mythology as the Greek God of love. According to the Greek Archaic poets, Cupid was a handsome immortal who played with the emotions of God’s men, doing so with golden arrows to incite love. During the Hellenistic period Cupid began to be portrayed as a mischievous, chubby child that showed up on valentines day cards all over the world. 


Valentine’s day is heavily celebrated in the United States, Canada, Mexico, the United Kingdom, France, Australia, and around the 17th century it began to be celebrated in Great Britain. Around the middle 19 Century it was common for loved ones and friends of all social classes to exchange small tokens of affection or handwritten notes and letters to symbolize love. By the 20th Century cards began to be printed and they would prelace written letters as an improvement to the technology. Americans have begun exchanging hand-made valentines day cards since about the early 1700s. Around 1840, Esther A. Howland began to mass produce valentines cards in America. Howland was known as the “Mother of the Valentine.” She came up with elaborate and delicate cards with things such as lace cards, colorful pictures, and things such as bows. Today valentine’s day is celebrated very similarly, with candy, flowers, cards and many more traditions from back then. Even jewelry companies have gotten involved in the Valentines game as they cater special heart shaped Jewelry for this special day. 

Today an estimated 145 million Valentine’s Day cards are sent each year, which makes Valentine’s Day the second largest card-sending holiday of the year. No matter what you believe about Valentine’s Day, and the reason we celebrate today, we can agree that this is a day filled with love from loved ones all around us.