More Than A Name: The Truth Of Valentine's Day

Updated August 15, 2023by Regain Editorial Team

Nowadays, February 14 is associated with heart-shaped food, red and pink decorations, candy, chocolate, roses, and anything else considered romantic. While many people believe this holiday holds sentimental value and even attach certain meanings to it, majority of people do not know why they celebrate this holiday each year. While its history may be surprising, it’s certainly interesting and worth knowing about it.

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The Mystery Surrounding February 14

First, it’s important to note that the history of Valentine’s Day will probably always be somewhat of a mystery. There are plenty of tales and different accounts of how this holiday came to be, many of which will be explored here, but there is no one story accepted as a complete fact. Still, scholars and historians have agreed on a select few facts.

A Less-Known Dark History Behind This Holiday

Valentine’s Day wasn’t always about love, at least according to one popular legend. It is said that the pagan holiday Lupercalia could be responsible for inspiring its founding. Lupercalia was held on February 15 each year and was a festival that supposedly celebrated fertility and cleansed the city of any evil. The festival was in honor of Lupercus, known as the god of fertility. Legend has it that two twin brothers, Romulus and Remus (the founders of Rome), were nurtured by a she-wolf in the Lupercal, a cave that sat at the base of the Palatine Hill in ancient Rome. Lupercal had an altar built inside of it.

Every festival started in the same manner — with a sacrifice. Men would strip off their clothes and slaughter goats and dogs, cutting the hides into strips shortly after. The men would cover their foreheads in blood and soak the hides in blood as well. They would then run around the hill of Palatine, striking women with the hides as a sort of symbolic beating.

It was said that if a woman was hit with one of the hides, they would be blessed with the gift of fertility. Therefore, women didn’t avoid getting hit with the hides and even would go out of their way to get hit by one; it was a good thing should they be struck, in their mind, for it symbolized fertility and good tidings.

Afterward, a giant feast was held with lots of wine. The goats that had been sacrificed had their skin cut up into small pieces and the people used these pieces to cover various parts of their bodies. Lupercus, the god of fertility, was often represented as being half-naked and having the other half covered with goat’s skin. So, this was their way of paying tribute to Lupercus.

There was also matchmaking that went on at the festival in which men drew the names of women and were then paired with them for the rest of the year. Often, these matches ended in a marriage. However, some historians argue that this particular event never occurred, at least not in Ancient Rome. Similarly, other historians assert that Lupercalia is not, in fact, related to Valentine’s Day, but has been equated as such in the modern day simply because the festival celebrated fertility, attraction, and marriage.


History of Saint Valentine

In the late fifth century, Pope Gelasius assumed responsibility for the Catholic Church. Lupercalia was still a popular holiday, and this bothered the Church. So, the Pope decided to honor martyred Saint Valentine by declaring February 14 as a day to celebrate him through various feasts. He also wrote a long, stern letter that forbid Christians to partake in Lupercalia. This effectively put an end to Lupercalia in the year 496 A.D.

Who was Saint Valentine? He may actually have been two different people under the same name, both murdered by the ancient Romans. One of them was said to have been beheaded by Emperor Claudius II because he was helping persecuted Christian couples get married at a time when it was outlawed. The emperor had banned marriages because he wanted young men to join the military; a marriage would have allowed them to avoid serving at all. The other Saint Valentine was said to have been killed because he was helping Christians escape persecution. Saint Valentine supposedly passed away from a beheading on February 14 around 270 A.D. when the emperor learned about his disobedience.

Although Saint Valentine is recognized as a real person, there is still a lot of mystery around his life. The Catholic Church stopped giving reverence to him in 1969 because of all of this confusion, but he is still an officially recognized saint.

All in all, Saint Valentine seems to be the main reason why Valentine’s Day exists today.

This is the truthfulness of Valentine’s Day to the extent that one wants to believe it is. As mentioned, no one knows for sure the exact historical context that created Valentine’s Day, at least not down to the details. Although it’s shrouded in mystery, one can conclude that the meaning of February 14 has changed drastically over the centuries. In fact, the meaning of the holiday today is unmatched to what it meant back then — which appears to be for the best. Valentine’s Day has a rather unromantic past, but that does not seem to matter today. Instead, people choose to associate the day with romanticism, love, and care. However, one also has to note that the majority of people do not know the dark history behind this holiday.

Valentine’s Day Throughout The Centuries

Geoffrey Chaucer was the first to write a poem about Valentine’s Day in a romantic way. This occurred during the 14th century. Chaucer’s poem switched people’s mindsets from viewing February 14 as a day of friendship to seeing it as a day of celebration for romantic couples. In the 17th century, Shakespeare references Valentine’s Day in his play Hamlet.

Fast forward to the Industrial Revolution of the 19th and 20th centuries, and Valentine’s Day begins to gain even more popularity. A woman named Esther Howland designed the first valentines in the United States and years later, Hallmark began producing their own. The very first box of chocolates sold in a heart-shaped container was produced by the Cadbury company in England in 1868. Now, around 36 million heart-shaped boxes of chocolate are bought each year for people to give to their lovers. Later, candy hearts would become popular as would Hershey’s kisses.

The Meaning Of Valentine's Today

While Valentine’s Day appears to have been named after Saint Valentine, the meaning it carries today is based around everything but the holiday’s history. Today, February 14 is all about love, affection, and adoration. It usually involves buying and receiving gifts, going on a special date night, or exchanging valentines. 

The average Valentine’s Day costs around $512, which can include popular gifts like a fancy dinner for two people, 12 red roses, chocolate, and jewelry. Take out the fancy dinner, and the cost averages around $147. While money is no indication of how much you love your partner, clearly Americans feel that they need to dish out more money for their significant other on February 14. 

Holiday in the Modern World 

For many, Valentine’s Day goes deeper than the dollar sign. Couples genuinely consider how to love their partner well on this day and plan ahead to create a meaningful day. Some surprise their partner with breakfast in bed, write long handwritten love letters, or plan an intricate weekend getaway. In this way, Valentine’s Day is also more than its name—people give it special meanings that are personal to them, and many have fond memories of February 14. 

To Celebrate or Not to Celebrate?

Of course, there are couples who assign no meaning to Valentine’s Day and choose not to celebrate at all. They may prefer to celebrate their partner in little (or big) ways throughout the year and don’t see the need for a specific day focused on showing affection. As long as a couple openly talks about their expectations for February 14, it should make it easier to avoid any conflict. After discussing the holiday even just once, couples will likely have a better understanding of how to approach that day in the future. The truth of Valentine’s Day is that it can be whatever you choose to make it.  

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Are your relationship struggling on this holiday? Know You Are Not Alone

Relationships can be tricky, and every couple has their own problems to focus on. What matters most, though, is being willing and able to work through those issues. If you are having difficulties in your personal life, whether as an individual or in your relationship, Regain can assist you.

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