Valentine’s Day Is All About Love, But Was It Always That Way?

Over 1500 years ago, Valentine’s Day was first celebrated in memory of a martyred Christian. While the festival’s origins are rooted in both pagan and religious traditions, it has now become synonymous with love. Back in ancient Rome, February was considered a month of love, but the celebrations were far from the romantic notions of today. Rather than exchanging chocolates and flowers, animals were slaughtered, and young men would whip young women while naked- not exactly a fun season!

It’s believed that the romantic connotation of Valentine’s Day was popularized by poetic writers like Geoffrey Chaucer and Shakespeare. St. Valentine himself supposedly wrote the first “valentine” to a young girl he tutored and fell in love with while imprisoned for his crimes. The day has been associated with various martyrdom stories, with one early tradition suggesting that St. Valentine restored sight to the blind daughter of his jailer.

Modern Valentine’s Day is associated with romantic love, which flourished during the 14th and 15th centuries with the notion of courtly love. In the 18th century, it became a popular occasion for couples to express their love through gifts such as flowers, confectionery, and greeting cards. Today, Valentine’s Day symbols include the heart-shaped outline, doves, and the winged Cupid figure.

In fun facts, the first Valentine’s card dates back to 1415 when the Duke of Orleans sent a card to his wife while he was imprisoned in the Tower of London. The earliest known letter of the “Valentine” kind is a letter from Margery Brews, a Norfolk woman, to her cousin John Paston in 1477.

Whether you celebrate Valentine’s Day or not, love has connected humans for centuries, and it’s not relegated to just one day. As Chaucer’s poem suggests, even the birds defer the decision of choosing their mates until next year.

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Priscilla King

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