Saint Valentine was a priest who died as a martyr. He was executed by the Romans on February 14 of the year 269.
At the time of Valentine, Emperor Claudius “the Cruel” had abolished marriage. He had a hard time recruiting soldiers and thought that married men would not make good soldiers because they wouldn’t want to leave their family. And that is why in 268 C.E. he decided to abolish marriage.
In spite of the ban on marriage, Valentine encouraged young couples to come and see him in secret so that he could give them the sacrament of marriage. When Emperor Claudius learned about these secret weddings, he ordered that Valentine be arrested and imprisoned.
While Valentine was in prison, he befriended the daughter of his jailor. She was blind but he made her see again. It is said that before being beaten and decapitated, Valentine gave the girl heart-shaped leaves on which he had written “from your Valentine”.
Before Saint Valentine’s Day was a religious holiday, there was a pagan feast that took place mid-February: Lupercalia. This feast was very disrespectful towards women and in 496 it was outlawed by Pope Gelasius I. It was replaced with Saint Valentine’s holiday celebration on February 14.
These days, Valentine’s Day is known around the world as the day of the lovers.
The customs surrounding Valentine’s Day have changed a lot over time. In the 20th and 21st century it is no longer a religious holiday as before. Like other religious holidays, it has become more and more commercialized.
An estimated billion postcards are sent each year to celebrate the day of lovers. Small gifts are exchanged as a token of love. The most traditional gifts are chocolates and red roses.
For ideas on making your own original gifts, or to make something with your children or students, see our Valentine’s Day projects section.