The Mysterious History of Valentine's Day

For every person that is in love with Valentine’s Day, there’s usually another who’s convinced it’s a “Hallmark Holiday.” It’s a popular theory that the day of love is just a capitalist and money hungry bid by big corporations, like Hallmark, that win big from all the gift and card buying. And it’s hard to say if anyone’s really right here, since Valentine’s Day is something of a mystery that has stumped historians for years. Obviously, I couldn’t break any new ground on this age-old mystery, but here are some cool historical theories about the origins of Valentine’s Day.

Like with many of our modern holidays, such as Christmas or Halloween, Valentine’s Day had similar but much darker counterparts in history. Noel Lenksi, a historian at the University of Colorado, told NPR that when it came to Valentine’s Day, the Roman romantics were “drunk” and “naked.” Of course, back then it was a 3-day feast called Lupercalia filled with animal sacrifice. They would take the remaining animal hides and use them to whip women, as a fertility practice.

Then there’s also the theory that the holiday being in celebration of St. Valentine. Yet, it’s unclear who St. Valentine really was – in fact, there’s probably more than one Saint Valentine. TIME magazine dug up some theories on a bunch of a different Saint Valentines! The most popular one is probably Saint Valentine, the Roman priest who was executed (super gruesomely) for marrying Christian couples. It’s also alleged that this Valentine wrote a love note to the blind daughter of his jailor, who Valentine had become smitten with. It was signed “from your Valentine.” It’s a romantic history that champions love; fitting comfortably with our modern idea of what Valentine’s Day is all about.

Others say, there’s really not much known about the life of Saint Valentine, and modern Valentine’s Day came out of Christians trying to lessen the pagan aspect of the ancient Roman holiday.

The point where the holiday really starts to resemble what it is today though, was during the Middle Ages. According to NPR, it was in the Middle Ages that exchanging cards became standard. A large part of what gave this holiday a much softer and more romantic reputation was none other than Shakespeare and poet Geoffrey Chaucer. Chaucer, in particular, seems to mark a turning point in the transformation of Valentine’s Day. The New York Times cited an article by the late Jack B. Oruch, an English Professor from the University of Kansas. The article detailed how it wasn’t until after Chaucer penned famous poems like “Parlement of Foules,” was there any romantic fluff surrounding Valentine’s Day.

While it’s difficult to pinpoint the exact origin of Valentine’s Day, there’s no denying there’s a long history behind it. So, no – Valentine’s Day isn’t just some cooperate fabrication. Still, there’s no denying that companies like Hallmark benefit a ton from the holiday. NPR has reported in the past that the card company made a staggering $17.6 billion dollars from Valentine's Day sales. Hallmark even has a page on their website dedicated to the history of Valentine’s Day, showing the past popular Valentine’s Hallmark card designs through the decades. Maybe they didn’t invent the holiday itself, but they’ve surely had an impact in shaping it for us today.

[Feature Image by Unsplash]