The History of Valentine’s Day
The origins of Valentine’s Day trace back to the ancient Roman celebration of Lupercalia. Held on February 15, Lupercalia honored the gods Lupercus and Faunus, as well as the legendary founders of Rome, Romulus and Remus.
In addition to a bountiful feast, Lupercalia festivities are purported to have included the pairing of young women and men. Men would draw women’s names from a box, and each couple would be paired until next year’s celebration.
While this pairing of couples set the tone for today’s holiday, it wasn’t called “Valentine’s Day” until a priest named Valentine came along. Valentine, a romantic at heart, disobeyed Emperor Claudius II’s decree that soldiers remain bachelors. Claudius handed down this decree believing that soldiers would be distracted and unable to concentrate on fighting if they were married or engaged. Valentine defied the emperor and secretly performed marriage ceremonies. As a result of his defiance, Valentine was put to death on February 14.
After Valentine’s death, he was named a saint. As Christianity spread through Rome, the priests moved Lupercalia from February 15 to February 14 and renamed it St. Valentine’s Day to honor Saint Valentine.
What’s Cupid Got to Do with It?
According to Roman mythology, Cupid was the son of Venus, the goddess of love and beauty. Cupid was known to cause people to fall in love by shooting them with his magical arrows. But Cupid didn’t just cause others to fall in love – he himself fell deeply in love.
As legend has it, Cupid fell in love with a mortal maiden named Psyche. Cupid married Psyche, but Venus, jealous of Psyche’s beauty, forbade her daughter-in-law to look at Cupid. Psyche, of course, couldn’t resist temptation and sneaked a peek at her handsome husband. As punishment, Venus demanded that she perform three hard tasks, the last of which caused Psyche’s death.
Cupid brought Psyche back to life and the gods, moved by their love, granted Pysche immortality. Cupid thus represents the heart and Psyche the (struggles of the) human soul.
- Approximately 1 billion Valentine’s Day cards are sent each year. Half of those are sent through Care2 (OK, maybe not HALF… or even half of half… but we are growing fast!)
- In order of popularity, Valentine’s Day cards are given to: teachers, children, mothers, wives, sweethearts, Koko the gorilla.
- The expression “wearing your heart on your sleeve” comes from a Valentine’s Day party tradition. Young women would write their names on slips of paper to be drawn by young men. A man would then wear a woman’s name on his sleeve to claim her as his valentine.
Happy Valentine’s Day!