The backstory of Valentine’s Day

There are many legends of how Valentine’s Day began. There are several Saint Valentines, each ending in his demise after defending love. The day we celebrate now is probably a combination of two of those Valentines. Both men were executed on February 14 of different years, by the same Roman Emperor, Claudius II during the 3rd century, according to NPR. It is possible the Catholic Church established St. Valentine’s Day to honor these two martyrs.

According to legend, Saint Valentine of Terni officiated weddings for Roman soldiers in secret, going against Claudius II wishes. The emperor believed if soldiers were married, they would become too attached to their wives and children. To solve the problem he banned them from marriage. As a result, many saw Valentine as a proponent of love.

In another story, St. Valentine wrote the first “Valentine” greeting to a young girl he tutored and fell in love with while he was imprisoned for the crime of officiating soldiers’ weddings. According to The History Channel, before dying, he wrote her a letter signed “From your Valentine,” which is often used today.

Little historical information is known about the martyrs named St. Valentine, however, and in 1969 the Roman Catholic Church stopped celebrating the day, though St. Valentine is still recognized as a saint.

Some historians believe Valentines actually stems from the pagan celebration of Lupercalia, which took place Feb. 14. Lupercalia honored the founders of Rome, Romulus and Remus, the wolf that raised them, and the gods and goddesses of agriculture and fertility. The day was filled with people running naked in the streets, sacrifices, debauchery and general craziness.

How did we get from running naked in the streets to a beheaded saint, to the chocolate and roses day we typically think of today? Two little-known English writers, Geoffery Chaucer and William Shakespeare, may have played a role. Chaucer was one of the first to link love in “The Parliament of Fowls” and “The Complaint of Mars,” according to University of Kansas professor Jack B. Oruch. Shakespeare on the other hand is thought to have popularized writing love letters. Hallmark jumped on the tradition in the 1910’s.

Today, the celebration has taken even more turns. People often host black heart parties for those single or just not wanting to celebrate traditional Valentines. More recently, Galentine’s Day, complete with presents and parties, has developed among women friends.

The history of Valentine’s Day is a wild ride, filled with few mysteries, sort of like love.

However you choose to celebrate it, or not, let’s appreciate all varieties of love in our lives and all our loved ones.