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VALENTINE’S DAY – Do you know the real story behind the celebration of love?


The celebration of St. Valentine’s Day goes back to Christian and ancient Roman traditions, and perhaps was first associated with romantic love in the 14th century, when Geoffrey Chaucer wrote a poem about "Valentines". A bit later, in France, Charles VI ordered to have a lavish festival at the court on the day of St Valentine, 14th February. Then, in the 19th-century posting Valentine Cards became popular in the Victorian England, from where it spread through the English-speaking countries then later several other countries as well.

How did 14th February become the celebration of romantic love? Let us reveal some interesting stories which you might not have known about Valentine’s Day. Why do not we start where the story began?


Lupercalia was a pastoral festival, held on 15th February. The aim of the ancient rite was to avert evil spirits and purify the city, in the hope for good health and fertility. The festival of Lupercalia involved another celebration, Februa, which was held on the very same day – actually, this month got its name after this festival: Februarius (in English: February).

The name of the holiday, Lupercalia derives from the Roman god Lupercus, the god of shepherds. The name comes from “lupus”, which means “wolf”. The she-wolf is a symbol of the city of Rome since the baby twin brothers, Romulus and Remus were cared and fed by a she-wolf at a cave. To cut a long story short, according to the tales, Romulus killed Remus and founded the Roman Kingdom. On 15th February, Roman priests gathered at the sacred cave, where a goat (for fertility) and – unfortunately - a dog (for purification) were sacrificed. In the city of Rome, this day was later also celebrated with name drawing, which is much closer to the holiday of the romantic love: Young women placed their names in a big clay jar, and each bachelor drew from them, the woman whose name was chosen became his pair for the year, many of these matches ended with marriages.

After Romans were converted to Christians, the pagan holidays were renamed and Christianized. The holiday of Lupercalia was also turned into a Christian feast by Pope Gelasius in 496 AD, that is, the day of the pagan celebration was placed on 14th February, and became the celebration of St Valentine, a Catholic martyr. One might be startled to know that there were (at least) three different martyrs named Valentine, all of them became saints. It cannot be known for sure who is the one we commemorate. According to the tradition, (a) Valentine died on 14th February, around A.D. 270. Let us see two stories (altogether with three men named Valentine) which must be in connection with the today Valentine’s Day, the celebration of romantic love.

A legend says Valentine was a priest in the third century, when the Roman emperor, Claudius II forbade the young men to marry thinking that a married man would not be a good soldier. However, the priest Valentine continued marrying young couples, of course, secretly. When it was revealed, Valentine was executed.

Another legend about another Valentine states that Valentine was executed due to helping imprisoned (often cruelly tortured) Christians to escape. Then there is another story, according to which an imprisoned Valentine sent the first Valentine Card (actually a letter) for his love who was the daughter of his confinement and often visited him in the prison. The letter was sent to the girl before his execution. He signed it as “From your Valentine”. This “expression” is still used today. (HISTORY OF VALENTINE’S DAY)

I guess the celebration of love uses elements of all the three stories about the three different Valentines.


Valentine’s Day was first associated with romantic love due to Geoffrey Chaucer’s poetry about “Valentines” in the end of the 14th century. Chaucer wrote this poem for the occasion of the first anniversary of an engagement: King Richard II of England engaged Anne of Bohemia.

Archaic spelling of his lines: “For this was on seynt Volantynys day // Whan euery bryd comyth there to chese his make.”

Today’s spelling: "For this was on St. Valentine's Day, when every bride cometh there to choose his mate."

However, it must be noted that this royal engagement was held on 2 May, 1381, and not in February. This fact suggests that this poem was not written for “today's Valentine’s Day”, that is, 14th February. Chaucer might have referred to the feast day of “another” Valentine, which was held on the very next day of the anniversary: 3 May.

14th February was first described as the celebration of romantic love when the “Charter of the Court of Love” was issued by Charles VI of France in 1400. According to this charter, this day had to be celebrated by a lavish festival with amorous songs, poetry competitions, dance and jousting.

Some hundred years later, in 1797, exactly four decades before Queen Victoria was crowned, a poetic verses collection, “The Young Man's Valentine Writer” was published. It contained verses for young lovers who could not create their own lines for their beloved ones. Then printed Valentine Cards started to be produced in limited edition. Soon, in Britain, Valentine Cards became incredibly popular in the beginning of 19th century. The cards were decorated with paper or real lace and ribbons. Posting Valentine Cards became the custom of the Victorian England, tens of thousands of cards were sent even if the postage was quite expensive. In the United States, mass produced Valentine Cards became popular in the middle of the 19th century.


The Hungarian counterpart of this article is much longer than this one and includes the history of the undeservedly forgotten story of the “Hungarian Valentine”, St Andrew's Day, who lived earlier then all the Valentines mentioned above. St Andrew was one of the apostle of Jesus Christ. You can get to know some historical facts about this interesting holiday in an article about St Andrew’s Day, which was also published in English on TUMAG: WHO WILL MARRY ME? The Hungarian Valentine’s Day: St. Andrew's Day (30 November)

Who will marry me?

History ( HISTORY OF VALENTINE’S DAY ; 6 Surprising Facts About St. Valentine
Romantic-in-Chief: Presidential Love Letters, From Adams to Nixon
Valentine's Day; András apostol