The Real History Behind Valentine's Day Is Complicated—Here's What We Know
It definitely didn't start with conversation hearts and chocolate boxes.
Love it or hate it, Valentine's Day comes every February 14th. While the romantic holiday inevitably becomes about cards, candy, and dinner reservations (or this year, a cozy plan to celebrate from home), the history of Valentine's Day is a far cry from what we celebrate today.
Much of the February celebration's origins are unknown, but what we do know proves that human culture is fascinating—and not always romantic. In the hopes to find out more about Valentine's Day, its history, and where it came from, we did some research. Here's what we found about the start of the famously red-and-pink holiday.
How did Valentine's Day start?
If we're being honest, the true history behind Valentine's day is a bit murky. Even historians aren't entirely clear on its evolution, but there are some theories. One popular consensus is that the tradition started as the ancient Roman festival called Lupercalia, a yearly celebration of fertility that was dedicated to the Roman god of agriculture, Faunas, in mid-February.
However, according to History.com, it is believed that at the end of the fifth century, Pope Gelasius outlawed Lupercalia for being "un-Christian" and declared February 14th as Valentine's Day instead. To those who ask, who created Valentine's Day? The answer that is most widely recognized is Pope Gelasius.
What does St. Valentine have to do with it?
As it turns out, our popularized version of Saint Valentine may have come about from multiple real-life people. History.com mentioned that the Catholic Church recognizes at least three different saints named Valentine or Valentinus, all of whom were martyred. Some believe that the Catholic Church established Valentine's Day as a way to honor those men. Regardless, the real saints were not the deep romantics that popular culture has painted them to be, but, more likely, men who died bloody deaths.
Why is cupid associated with Valentine's Day?
Cupid is recognized as the son of Venus in Roman mythology. Venus is the goddess of love and beauty. According to Roman lore, Cupid was known for shooting golden-tipped arrows at both gods and humans, which magically caused them to fall deeply in love.
Time.com mentioned that Valentine's Day was already becoming popular in the 18th century, and by the turn of the 19th century, Cupid had become linked to the holiday for his love-creating abilities. The cherub is now seen on countless Hallmark cards as a symbol of the day of love.
How did Valentine's Day become a romantic holiday?
Despite the myths about a potential romantic Roman priest, one historian credited Geoffrey Chaucer for connecting Valentine's Day to love. The New York Times noted that Jack B. Oruch, who died in 2013, wrote that he had found no connection between Valentine's Day and love until Chaucer wrote the poems "Parlement of Foules" and "The Complaint of Mars." That wasn't until the late 14th century.
Oruch believed that Chaucer may have been inspired to make St. Valentine's Day romantic because at the time, people in the 14th century believed spring to begin around mid-February. This was a time when "the birds started mating and the plants began to bloom," wrote Oruch.
Now, February 14th has morphed into a day to celebrate love in all of its forms, be it with your family, your partner, your friends, whoever is important to you in life. And, of course, we don't hate that it's an excuse to buy candy, too.