Valentine's Day: Where did it come from and what's the real meaning?

Caroline AllenContributor
PSA: Valentine's Day is coming up. [Photo: Getty]
PSA: Valentine's Day is coming up. [Photo: Getty]

We all know when Valentine’s Day is.

And, if we hadn’t clocked the 14 February was approaching, the sheer volume of heart-shaped balloons and chocolates already taking over shops is a bit of a giveaway.

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We might all know what is expected of those in relationships on the soppiest day of the year, but where did Valentine’s Day come from?

How did Valentine’s Day start?

It’s thought to originate from Roman times and it used to be called Lupercalia, which doesn’t quite have the same ring to it.

It marked the start of springtime and boys would draw girls names from a box. Whoever they chose was who they would be in a relationship with and sometimes they’d get married.

What is cool is that they would wear their hearts pinned to their sleeves for a week to show their true feelings. That’s where the phrase “wearing your heart on your sleeve” comes from.

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The first festivals of Lupercalia involved sacrificing a goat (for fertility) and a dog (for purification). They’d then dip the goat in sacrificial blood and drag it through the streets slapping (gently, apparently) women with it.

Instead of being utterly repulsed by this, women would queue up to be slapped by the dead goat in hope that it’d make them more fertile in the coming year.

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Ok, but why St Valentine?

The Christian church picked up on Lupercalia and decided to rename it after St Valentine - a priest from Rome in the third century AD.

Emperor Claudius II banned marriage because he believed that married men made unproductive soldiers.

Valentine, thinking this rule was unfair, decided to marry people in secret against Emperor Claudius II’s wishes.

Emperor Claudius II over-reacted to this news in the way that third century Emperors tended to do and threw Valentine in jail, sentencing him to death.

Valentine fell in love with the jailor’s daughter and when sentenced to death of 14 February, he wrote her a letter written “from your Valentine”.

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So, that’s how the day became about love?

You would think so, but no.

Valentine’s Day always had a springtime element to it and for many years 14 February marked the beginning of bird’s mating season.

This, teamed with the story of St Valentine, added to the case that Valentine’s Day should be a day of love.

In 1375, Chaucer wrote: ““For this was sent on Seynt Valentyne’s day / Whan every foul cometh ther to choose his mate.”

It was the first official mention of Valentine’s day in literary history.

Where else is it celebrated?

Aside from the UK, Valentine’s Day is celebrated in the US, Canada, Mexico, France and Australia.

Across these countries, it’s mostly celebrated in the same way. In Mexico, though, it’s a day to celebrate friendships as well as romantic relationships.

For the rest of us, we have Galantine’s Day and Palantine’s Day (often on the 13 February) to celebrate our mates.

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Where did buying roses for Valentine’s Day come from?

Valentine’s Day is centred around a lot of very old traditions and the rose tradition is no exception. Apparently, the favourite flower of Venus, the Roman goddess, was the red rose and it has been ingrained in our romantic history ever since.

How much does the UK spend on Valentine’s Day?

In 2019, loved-up British people spent 391 million dining out. In addition, we spent approximately 267 million on flowers alone.

With more and more people opting to sidestep the traditional romantic plans and go out with their friends instead, the value of Valentine’s Day is only likely to increase.

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