St. Valentine’s Day legends shed light on dreaded, loved February celebration

Kali Lingen

Kali Lingen

Ah, it is that time of year again: Valentine’s Day. It is a day which is both dreaded and loved. I think Valentine’s Day is a bittersweet holiday, and it has a deeply rooted mysterious history: a history which intrigues me.

According to, Feb. 14’s St. Valentine’s holiday is a combination of both Christian and Roman traditions, and there are three different legends about the beginning of Valentine’s Day. Also, the Catholic Church has martyred three different saints named Valentinus or Valentine.

The first legend suggests Valentine was a priest in the third century in Rome, and during Emperor Claudius II’s reign, Claudius had outlawed marriage for young men. Claudius believed men who were unattached without wives and children made the best soldiers. This legend says Valentine performed marriages for young men and women in secret, which defied Claudius’s orders. Eventually, Claudius discovered Valentine’s marriages and ordered him put to death.

Another legend says Valentine may have helped prisoners escape from Roman prisons. During Valentine’s time, the prisoners were often tortured and beaten.

A third, and more romantic legend, says Valentine sent the first “valentine” greeting, thus the name. It is believed while he was in prison, Valentine fell in love with a young girl with who is thought to have been the jailer’s daughter. She visited him during his imprisonment. This legend suggests before his death, he wrote the girl a letter signed, “From your Valentine.” says Valentine was one of the most popular saints in France and England during the Middle Ages. The real beginning of Valentine’s Day is a mystery, but St. Valentine was believed to be a heroic, sympathetic and romantic figure.

There are people who believe Valentine’s Day is celebrated on Feb. 14 to mark the anniversary of Valentine’s death, but there is also some debate over that as well. Some believe the date was chosen to “Christianize” the pagan Lupercalia festival. February marked the beginning of spring and purification in ancient Rome. Lupercalia was a fertility festival that began on Feb. 15. Along with other traditions during the festival, all young Roman women would put their names into an urn and the unmarried young men would draw out of the urn and be paired with the women for the next year. According to the legend, the pairings often ended in marriages between the couples.

St. Valentine’s Day on Feb. 14 was declared by Pope Gelasius around 498 A.D. Also, Feb. 14 was believed to be the start of the bird mating season, and during the Middle Ages, it was thought Feb. 14 was “a day for romance.”

Today, we do not celebrate Valentine’s Day with a Roman lottery. Instead, cards, gifts, candy and flowers are exchanged between loved ones. It seems we don’t celebrate the day with as much romance as there was in the Middle Ages during St. Valentine’s time.

Now, there are Facebook groups and pages about hating Valentine’s Day. Yes, “they” say Valentine’s Day has become a Hallmark holiday, but I do not know who the mysterious “they” are, so I don’t know how credible “they” are. I agree with people when they say, “Why should we celebrate our love only one day a year?” but I still believe in the magic surrounding Valentine’s Day. I think it a special day, one for both single and coupled individuals to celebrate the loved ones in their lives. I know that is what I intend to do.