For all its popularity, history doesn’t give us any guarantees as to the origin of Valentine’s Day. But we do know it contains messages of the early Christian church in ancient Rome. The association between mid-February and romance goes back to the pagan festival known as Lupercalia, likely honoring either Lupa, the she-wolf of Rome who suckled Romanists, and Remus, their god of fertility.
The festivities began with an animal sacrifice, the ritualistic slapping of a young woman with strips of the animal’s skin and blood to dispose of fertility for the coming year. In the fifth century and perhaps in an effort to Christianize the pagan festival, Pope Julius declared February as St. Valentine’s Day. As for the real St. Valentine there were several reportedly canonized by the church.
Legend has it that one St. Valentine was a defiant Roman priest who lived during the third century A.D. under Emperor Claudius the second.
Claudius was an ambitious ruler. His battles required vast armies of many to abandon their young families for long periods of time, resulting in a military that was halfhearted and homesick. So determined was Claudius to stop love from sapping the will of his armies, he banned marriages altogether.
Father Valentine thought that was unjust, and defied the Emperor to continue to marry young lovers in secret.
The Emperor eventually caught on to the priest’s actions and arrested him, sentencing him to death. It is believed that young couples secretly wed, would visit his cell, passing flowers and notes through the bars as a symbol of their gratitude.
The story continues that the condemned Father Valentine fell in love with his jailer’s daughter. On February 14, the day he was executed, it is said he passed the young girl a note, signed from “Your Valentine.”
Today, Valentine’s Day has removed the religious opinions from the past and it’s one of the most celebrated holidays on the calendar. A tradition was born and a Cupid, a towering matchmaker, who started out as a Roman God of love, inspired the image of cherubs for Christians and is now a favorite of card makers and mass marketers.
On average, Americans shower their loved ones with 180 million roses, and almost 36 million heart-shaped boxes of candy, not to mention all those cards, dinners and diamonds. All told, the holiday brings in almost 14 billion annually, giving retailers plenty to love as well. But if you’re worried that you can’t afford to treat your loved ones properly next Valentine’s Day, take heart, the poets were right, love is all you really need.