February 13, 2020 By Ian Lanouette

A Brief History of Valentine’s Day

The internet is a marvelous tool for researching just about any topic that one can imagine. I thought it would be fun to research the origins of Valentine’s Day. As many have found, the veracity of material found on the internet varies wildly so I can only suggest taking the following information with a grain of salt — or . . . a delicious chocolate truffle?

One theory relates to the ancient Roman festival of Lupercalia held in mid-February. It involved fertility rites and the pairing of women off to men according to a lottery system. Later, around the 5th century, Pope Gelasius replaced Lupercalia with St. Valentine’s Day.

Who was St. Valentine? Several Christian martyrs were named Valentine, but the most likely candidate is a priest killed by Claudius Gothicus in 270 CE. Why he was killed is another mystery and there are several explanations. For our purposes, my favorite is that St. Valentine was killed for secretly marrying couples in defiance of the emperor’s order that men should not marry, reasoning that unmarried men were more suitable to serve as soldiers, therefore associating the day with romance and love.

Valentine messages appeared in the 1500s, and commercially printed cards were being used in the late 1700s. Birds (avian mating season starts in mid-February), Cupid and roses (love and beauty), and candy (what is better than offering sweets to your sweetheart?) became popular symbols.

About 150 million Valentine’s Day cards are exchanged each year, making Valentine’s Day the second most card-sending holiday after Christmas. Richard Cadbury is believed to have been the first candy maker to put his chocolates into a heart-shaped box. Many of his elaborate boxes were saved to store mementos like locks of hair and love letters. Victorian-era Cadbury boxes are now treasured family heirlooms and valuable items prized by collectors.


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