A Brief History of Valentine’s Day

Keys Digest


A Brief History of Valentine’s Day

A Brief History of Valentine’s Day


For those in a relationship, Valentine’s Day is a time to show the one you love that, err, you love them.  Cards and chocolates are exchanged, intimate dinners are arranged and more early nights are had than usual.  But how did this celebration of amour come about in the first place?

As you would expect, our modern Valentine’s Day celebration has its roots (stop it) in ancient fertility rituals and the Roman Empire’s fixation with procreation and rumpy pumpy in general.  For more years than history can reliably remember, the Roman festival of Lupercalia celebrated fertility on Febrary 15th until Pope Gelasius I decided to bring this pagan party in house and recast it as a Christian feast – St Valentine’s Day, February 14th.

So far so good, but unfortunately the rationale of the celebration was confused somewhat by the fact that there were a number of Saint Valentine’s at the time and nobody seems dependably sure as to which one took the spot.  One was a priest in Rome, one a bishop in Terni and the third was a mysterious figure about whom little is known except that he met his demise somewhere in Africa.  However, and rather astonishingly, it seems that all three were martyred on the same day – February 14th.

Ok.  We’ve got ourselves a patron saint for the date but Feb 14 was still just a religious festival and it wasn’t until the 14th century that Chaucer, the seemingly smut-obsessed writer, penned the poem that would forever marry Valentine’s Day to the notion of romantic love.  His 1381 work, “The Parliament of Fowls”, which celebrated the engagement of England’s Richard II and Anne of Bohemia, put sex on the table – as it were – with his reference to the mating season of birds:

For this was on seynt Valentynes day,
Whan every foul cometh ther to chese his make

Nonsense right?  Well, they did speak a bit funny back in Chaucer’s day but if you translate it to modern speak there’s an unmistakeable reference to avian procreation and that’s what put the love into February 14th:

For this was on St Valentine’s Day,
When every fowl cometh here to choose his mate

So that was it – a fleeting literary reference to the date and the deed – and the love link stuck.  Over the years this tenuous connection won the hearts of florists and greeting card manufacturers around the world.  By the 18th century the practice of exchanging gifts and cards on Valentine’s Day had become the commercially romantic tradition that we recognise today.

According to the Greeting Card Association, more than one billion cards are sent every year making Valentine’s Day second only to Christmas (2.6 billion).  Interestingly women are responsible for the purchase of 85% of those cards.

If you need any help planning any aspect of a Valentine’s treat – from gift ideas to restaurant recommendations – then get in touch with a Keys Lifestyle Manager today.