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Origins of the name

The name came from Saint Valentine. Around 270 A.D. when Claudius II was the emperor of Rome, Valentine was a bishop. The Gauls, Slavs, Huns, Turks and Mongolians were increasing their pressure on the Roman borders. The empire needed soldiers to protect the lands and people from the intruders. Claudius felt that married men made poor soldiers because they were emotionally attached to their families. He then banned marriage.

So Valentine began to meet couples in secret to marry them. Soon the emperor learned of the secret ceremonies. Claudius had Valentine executed on February 24, 270 A.D.

Legend has it that Valentine fell in love with his jailor’s daughter. Another legend says that he restored the sight of his jailor’s blind daughter. Both versions say that he left her a farewell message signed "From Your Valentine."

While some believe that Valentine's Day is celebrated in the middle of February to commemorate the anniversary of Valentine's death or burial -- which probably occurred around 270 A.D -- others claim that the Christian church may have decided to celebrate Valentine's feast day in the middle of February in an effort to 'christianize' celebrations of the pagan Lupercalia festival.


On February 14, the Ancient Romans honored Juno, the goddess of marriage. February 15 was the Feast of Lupercalia. Unmarried women wrote their names on pieces of paper and placed them in a jar. The unmarried men would then draw a piece of paper from the jar and would be paired with the girls whose names they picked for the rest of the festival.

Early Christians didn’t like some of the behavior that went on during the festival, so the church tried to tone down the festivities. The legend of Saint Valentine began to spread and soon the name of the holiday was changed.


Cupid is one of the most popular symbols, but the myth behind him isn’t as widely known. His mother was Venus, goddess of love and beauty.

According to myth, Cupid fell in love with a mortal named Psyche and married her. The odd pair was very happy in spite of the fact that Psyche wasn’t allowed to look at her husband. Then one day Psyche’s sisters convinced her to look at Cupid. For breaking the rule, Cupid punished his wife by disappearing, along with their house. Psyche was left alone in a vacant field. Not knowing what to do, she went to Venus’ house.

Wishing to punish the girl further, Venus gave her a series of dangerous tasks. The last task was to travel to the underworld and put some of Proserpine’s beauty into a box. Temptation soon got the best of her, and she opened the box. Deadly slumber was in the box, and Psyche fell lifeless to the ground.

Cupid found her and put the sleep back into the box. He forgave his bride. The gods were so moved by her bravery they made her a goddess.


Another story comes from a European belief. Europeans believed that birds began to choose their mates on February 14. This myth then led to the idea that boys and girls would do the same. Some people had kept the tradition of a young man drawing a girl’s name on Valentine’s, but it had a twist. The boy would wear the girl’s name on his sleeve for a year and protect her.

People began to refer to the girl as the young man’s Valentine, and the couple would exchange love tokens throughout the year. Later it was only the boy who gave the girl gifts, usually signed "with St. Valentine’s Love."


The first written valentine is usually attributed to the imprisoned Charles, Duke of Orleans. In 1415, Charles fought his lonely confinement by writing romantic verses for his wife. By the sixteenth century written valentines were so common that St. Francis de Sales, fearing for the souls of his English flock, sermonized against them. Manufactured cards, decorated with Cupids and hearts, appeared near the end of the eighteenth century. A purchased valentine became the most popular way to declare love during the early decades of the nineteenth century. Miniature works of art, the cards were usually hand painted and were often lavishly decorated with laces, silk or satin, flowers (made from the feathers of tropical birds), glass filigrees, gold-leaf or even perfumed sachets!

The oldest known valentine still in existence today was a poem written by Charles, Duke of Orleans to his wife while he was imprisoned in the Tower of London following his capture at the Battle of Agincourt . The greeting, which was written in 1415, is part of the manuscript collection of the British Library in London, England. Several years later, it is believed that King Henry V hired a writer named John Lydgate to compose a valentine note to Catherine of Valois .

In Great Britain, Valentine's Day began to be popularly celebrated around the seventeenth century. By the middle of the eighteenth century, it was common for friends and lovers in all social classes to exchange small tokens of affection or handwritten notes. By the end of the century, printed cards began to replace written letters due to improvements in printing technology.


Americans probably began exchanging hand-made valentines in the early 1700s. In the 1840s, Esther A. Howland began to sell the first mass-produced valentines in America. According to the Greeting Card Association, an estimated one billion valentine cards are sent each year, making Valentine's Day the second largest card-sending holiday of the year. (An estimated 2.6 billion cards are sent for Christmas.) Approximately 85 percent of all valentines are purchased by women. In addition to the United States, Valentine's Day is celebrated in Canada, Mexico, the United Kingdom, France, and Australia.