The Stories Behind the Celebration
Story 1: In 3rd century Rome, Emperor Claudius II banned marriage because he
wanted his army full of hell-bent bachelors with nothing to lose. Valentine was a
priest that married the helpless, young lovers. Claudius found out and killed him,
making him the martyr Saint Valentine. Romantic, right?
Story 2: Claudius wanted to convert Saint Valentine to Paganism. Valentine
graciously declined, and Claudius graciously beheaded him.
Story 3: Valentine was a Harriet Tubman wannabe and attempted to free Christians
from Roman prisons. Again, he was killed.
Story 4: Valentine was in a Roman prison, fell in love with the jailor’s blind
daughter, and sent her the first-ever Valentine greeting. Just like today’s cards, it
was probably thick with cloying sentimentality:
“I’m a prisoner of Roman rule, and your heart.”
“Nothing is stronger than the chains of love.”
“Hey, I just met you (behind rusty iron bars) and this is crazy (because conjugal
visits don’t exist yet) but here’s my (prison cell) number, so call (my name),
Anyway, he was killed.
The Story Behind the Tradition
Part 1: Pagans are misunderstood teenage goths, and Christians are overbearing
parents. So what if Pagans want to slap women and crops with goat meat dipped in
sacrificial blood? It’s the ides of February, and that’s how they celebrate the fertility
festival Lupercalia! The best part? All the women put their names in an urn, and it
was a “Sex for One-Year” raffle that sometimes ended in marriage. We still do that
today. It’s called “The Bachelor.”
And like today’s prude parents, Christians put their foot down. In an effort to push
out the Pagan blasphemy, a Valentine’s feast (with a revamped “Saint for One-
Year” raffle) was celebrated at the same time as Lupercalia, mid-February. Not a
very original tactic, in my opinion. Ever wonder why All Hallows Eve was celebrated
the same time as the Pagan Celtic festival Samhain? Yeah, not for children of the
future to stuff their faces with every imaginable form of sugar.
Part 2: The rebellious teenage goth-pagans didn’t back down. I mean, since when
has an earlier curfew felt threatening? That’s what windows, “sleepovers,” and
quiet staircases are for. But there’s always that one creaky floorboard or that one
call to Betty’s mom:
“I thought they were sleeping over at your place, Nancy?”
“Well, Katie told me they were staying with you, Betty.”
And as the Pagans crept up to their bedroom at 3 a.m., Christians turned the light
on and said “Think you could get away with it, huh?”
Lupercalia was outlawed by the end of the 5th century and deemed “un-Christian.”
Pope Gelasius declared February 14th St. Valentine’s Day.
Part 3: The St. Valentine holiday wasn’t really that romantic until Geoffrey Chaucer
wrote a poem in the 14th century:
“For this was on Saint Valentine’s Day,
when every bird cometh there to choose his mate.”
The oldest known Valentine’s greeting was written in 1415 by Charles, Duke of
Orleans, to his wife while imprisoned in the Tower of London:
“My very gentle Valentine,
Please put in my box of chocolates
A friendly file to grind these bars with”
Okay, I totally altered the poem. The real version can be read here.
The file would never come anyway. His wife died.
Part 4: By the 18th century, everyone was hopping on the Valentine bandwagon.
People shared notes, tokens of affection, and by the 20th century, printed cards.
Valentine’s Day is the second largest card-sending holiday of the year, with an
estimated 1 billion cards sent. And if there’s that large of an increase for cards, I
can only cringe at the assumed increase for PlentyofFish.com.
Are you wondering where Cupid fits into the mix? I’ll give you some background:
Cupid is the Roman God of Love. He married Psyche, who was more beautiful than
the goddess of beauty herself, Venus. Venus was a cougar. She was also Cupid’s
mother, so you can see where this is going.
Cupid told Psyche she could never see his face, so they consummated in the dark.
But, succumbing to rumors, Psyche feared she married a monster, and turned the
lights on one night. (So far, this just sounds like a couple who can’t get over
bedroom preference.) Anyway, Cupid flew off. Psyche went to Venus for help, but
Venus, being the jealous mother-in-law she is, sent Psyche on a bunch of life-
threatening tasks that only brought her eternal slumber. Cupid still loved Psyche,
so he found her and whisked the sleep away.
What does this have to do with Valentine’s Day? Not a whole lot.
Who can we thank for the two being intertwined? Probably Hallmark, Saint of
Whether you’re dating, married, single and looking, or single and not looking, I
think you can find something good in Valentine’s Day. Perhaps, you find it
humorous: the surprising amount of death that lead to something ironically
romantic. Or, perhaps you find it striking: the surprising amount of inaccuracy that
lead to something so beautiful.
Maybe you want to go the one-year “raffle” route. Maybe you want a saintly solo
evening. Maybe you prefer a Cupid-style lights-off night, or maybe just a good old
fashioned romantic Valentine. Whatever your preference, Valentine’s Day is a
holiday we can all enjoy.