The Twisted History Behind Valentine’s Day


Image credited to Flickr

What we know as Valentine's Day today was not always the lovey-dovey holiday we currently know it as.

Alisha G., Ashima G., and Abby S.

To St. Valentine~

Roses are red,

Bruises are blue,

If you don’t stop marrying people,

I will execute you!

With Hate,

Emperor Claudius ~

Ah, what a time to live!

It was A.D. 450, and marriage for the young had been outlawed. All hope seemed lost for love and romance. Emperor Claudius had declared a new law that forbade marriage to assure that no young warriors would be distracted from their military duties.

Just when all dreams seemed crushed, St. Valentine was there to save the day!  

St. Valentine began to marry people in secret. Yet after hitching a few young couples, Emperor Claudius became aware of his actions, and St. Valentine was in serious trouble.

“…(S)everal St. Valentines …were executed during the reign of Roman Emperor Claudius Gothicus in 269-270 A.D., at a time when persecution of Christians was common,” said Lisa Bitel, Professor of History and Religion and historian of Christianity.  

You may be wondering, what does this have to do with love and romance?

After St. Valentine’s death was ordered, he was imprisoned while he awaited execution. However, St. Valentine’s jail time turns out to be a bit of a romantic legend.

…Valentine himself fell in love with his jailor’s daughter…According to this tale, St Valentine wrote his inamorata a note signed ‘from your Valentine’: the first Valentine’s greeting,” said Anna Maria Barry, cultural historian and PhD student at Oxford Brookes University.

After he was executed, his story lived on. Toward the end of the 5th century, Pope Gelasius declared February 14th as St. Valentine’s day, or just Valentine’s day in today’s vernacular.

So how did today’s version of the holiday come to be? It certainly never started with cheesy Hallmark cards and sickly-sweet chocolates!

In Rome, there was a quite peculiar and disturbing event called Lupercalia. The young Roman men drank and partied in ways that people seldom celebrate today.

“Each year’s Luperci would sacrifice goats and cut the skin of the animals into thin strips, which they used to hit women. Most women deliberately stood in the way of the running priests and were eager to be lashed on various parts of their body,” wrote Krešimir Vuković, a professor of history at the Croatian Catholic University.

Crazy! This festival was held on February 15th, one day after Valentine’s Day. During the A.D. 400s, in an effort to rid themselves of these disturbing rituals, the Roman government decided to merge the two holidays.

Valentine’s Day wasn’t always about kissy emoji faces and candy. The next time you’re grumbling about this romantic holiday, take a moment to be thankful that we’ve moved from bloody animal skins to red roses, boxes of See’s chocolates, and those perforated Valentine’s Day grams.