History of Valentine’s Day

St-valentine-baptizing-st-lucilla-jacopo-bassanoValentine’s Day goes back clear to 500 AD when it was established as a Catholic holiday by Pope Galasius I.  As with many other of the Catholic holidays, Valentine’s Day was meant to take the place of an earlier pagan holiday, in this case the Roman day dedicated to fertility, Lupercalia.  Valentine was a common name in the Roman world and many early saints bore the name Valentine.  Very little is known about the saint honored by the day or even for sure which of the Valentines Galasius was intending to honor.

Valentine’s Day didn’t become a day for lovers until the late 1300’s AD at the time of Chaucer.  Since then the religious aspect of Valentine’s Day has been lost in the pursuit of romantic love.


Many Valentine’s traditions for lovers have been invented over the years.

Here is the original version of a favorite old poem.

The rose is red, the violet’s blue
The honey’s sweet, and so are you
Thou are my love and I am thine
I drew thee to my Valentine
The lot was cast and then I drew
And fortune said it should be you.

The poem refers to drawing a lot.  From the middle ages it became a custom that on Valentine’s Day young men would draw the name of a young woman.  He would wear her name upon his sleeve for the week.  The two would be paired at village festivities and so on.  Sometimes the pairing would last, probably most often it did not.

Some other traditions include:

  • Cut open an apple and count the seeds.  This is the number of children you will have.
  • Twist the stem off an apple.  With each twist say the name of a young man or woman you know.  The name you say as the stem breaks is the one you will marry.
  • Blow the seeds off a ripe dandelion.  The number of seeds left after you’ve blown is the number of children you will have.
  • In Wales they carve wooden spoons with the shape of key on them to give to their love.  The key refers to “unlocking the heart”.
  • In the late 1700’s greeting cards began to be produced commercially and giving a card became a big deal.  Today more than 1 billion Valentine’s cards are given each year . . . teachers are the group that receives the most.
  • And of course giving flowers and candy on V-day is a  big deal!

Additional Layers

  • Though Valentine’s Day is decidedly a western European and North American holiday it has been exported across the world in many places and most countries today celebrate it in some form.  Pick a country and learn how they celebrate Valentine’s Day or if they have a different day for lovers.
  • Learn about Lupercalia, who celebrated it and why.
  • Learn one or more of the legends about Saint Valentine.  Scholars now think these legends are nothing more than stories . . . but scholars are often wrong.  What do you think?
  • Write your own “Roses are red, violets are blue” poem.


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