Valentine’s Day. A Beautiful Tradition with Legendary Origin

Valentine’s Day is surrounded by wonderful traditions and a legendary origin. 

It’s the day we celebrate friendship and love. Traditions include giving cards with nice messages to friends and family; many of them portray red roses, chocolates, and gifts, and our dear Cupid is there with his golden arrows to enchant those meant to love each other.

But why give gifts? Why roses, chocolates, and cards?

Very old records indicate that roses are ancient flowers. They are so ancient that there are references to Eros and Aphrodite using roses as a symbol of love and purity. Later, when Christianity spread, they also adopted roses as a love symbol. Actually, it is said that the Virgin Mary used a crown of thornless roses as a symbol of being without sin.

The traditions of exchanging “valentines” go back to the Middle Ages. In the 18th century, giving a poem was considered traditional. However, not everyone was a poet, so printers came up with the idea of printing little poem books. Then, in the 19th century, these books evolved into a one-page poem and then into a card.

Another tradition was to send bouquets of flowers to loved ones; lovers would often carefully choose the flowers to send a message that the loved one would decode according to the meaning of each flower and its color. By the late 19th century, confectioners introduced the idea of adding a box of chocolates with bouquets of flowers. Traditionally, the chocolates for such an occasion were usually in boxes shaped like a heart, covered in red silk, and decorated with flowers and cupids.

In the 20th century, the “Valentine” tradition has expanded further from sharing a nice dinner to giving jewelry, teddy bears, and many other gift ideas and new traditions.

So, Valentine’s Day is old. How old?

The oldest legend about the origin of Valentine’s Day is the Lupercalia, a spring festival dedicated to Faunus, the Roman god of agriculture, and Rome’s founders Romulus and Remus, which was celebrated on February 15. Some historians claim the Christian church placed the Valentine’s Day celebration on that date as an attempt to Christianize Lupercalia. During Lupercalia, young men would take a paper with a young woman’s name from a jar. Then, the couple would live together until the next Lupercalia. Oftentimes, most of the couples would fall in love and remain together.

From a Christian perspective, the most known legend reads that Valentine was a priest who would marry young couples in secret. This way, married men could leave the army, defying Emperor Claudius II, who wouldn’t allow young men to marry, so they became soldiers instead. Valentine was sentenced to death — around A.D. 270, although there isn’t an exact date for this. The legend also reads that he fell in love with his jailor’s daughter. Before his death, he wrote a letter to her signed “From your Valentine,” a phrase still in use today. 

Another Valentine’s Day symbol is Cupid, portrayed as a naked cherub launching arrows. This character also comes from the Roman mythology. Actually, the Roman God Cupid has its roots in Greek mythology as the god of love, Eros. 

One way or another, the date is about friendship, love, and romance. Not only about St. Valentine’s but also about older celebrations dedicated to spring.