Where Did Valentine’s Day Come From Anyway?

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Birds are chirping, snow is falling, girls are weeping…wait, what? It’s that time again ladies and gents: Valentine’s Day. For some of you this may be a much-anticipated day when your new significant other will prove himself. For others it is the painful reminder that some people really do become cat ladies. But where did it start? Who inflicted this misery/joy on us?

Let’s all just take a moment to appreciate the fact that Valentine’s Day is a super weird holiday. I’m not talking Hawaiian pizza, Weird-Until-You-Try-It weird; I’m talking They-Made-A-Hot-Tub-Time-Machine-2 weird. A day, smack dab in the middle of winter, when couples celebrate and singles mourn.

Look, I get it. Love is awesome, love is eternal, love is blah-blah-blah. But if you love someone, shouldn’t you love him/her every day, not just on the 14th? And why is it that men only buy women flowers and chocolates one day a year? Gentlemen, this should be a regular occurrence. Ladies, we all already have a chocolate stash anyways, and it needs to be replenished on a more frequent basis.

When 30 college students were asked about the history of Valentine’s Day, 43 percent said Hallmark created the holiday, while 33 percent had no idea how it got started. Only 24 percent thought St. Valentine had something to do with the chocolates and crying.

In a way, everyone wins. There is no one verified origin of Valentine’s Day and Hallmark did capitalize on an otherwise unknown holiday. But wait a second; it’s called Valentine’s Day. Who was the first Valentine?

In fact, there were two, and the Church still can’t figure out which one of them is the Valentine. Spoiler alert: both guys got murdered by Romans.

Our first unlucky Valentine was a priest during the reign of Emperor Claudius II (roughly 300 AD). A law was passed ruling that young men could not marry, in hopes of creating more dedicated soldiers. Valentine decided this was definitely not kosher and performed marriages in secret. Too bad Claudius found out and had him executed.

The second Valentine helped Christians escape from Roman prisons in the fourth century BC. He was eventually caught and imprisoned, and that’s why we can credit him for the pieces of paper we wait for every February. During his time in jail he sent the first “Valentine’s card” to his jailer’s daughter, with whom he had fallen in love. He even signed the letter, “from your Valentine,” or so the story goes. Talk about a heartbreaking Valentine’s Day. Those love letters got Sweet V killed.

In the fifth century AD Pope Gelasius officially declared February 14th St. Valentine’s Day; however, the association with love did not come until the Middle Ages. Even then, written cards were not popular until the 1400s.

It wasn’t until the mid-1800s that people began the tradition of exchanging small gifts and notes on Valentine’s Day, and by the 1900s Americans had begun mass producing cards to send to friends and loved ones. Today, roughly one million cards are sent on Valentine’s Day, making it the second biggest card-sending holiday after Christmas.

So send a card, treat yourself to some chocolate and grab an extra large box of tissues because it looks like Valentine’s Day is here to stay.

Hi there! My name is Katie and I am a third year at the wonderful University of Virginia. I am a writer for College Magazine, a sister of Delta Gamma, and an avid travel photographer. Check out my articles at collegemagazine.com and my photos at momentsapart.com

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