It may or may not surprise you to know that the true history of Valentine’s Day is contested. There are a few differing legends that have feasible roots in known history. One thing is for sure: One hundred years ago, Valentine’s Day looked nothing like it does today.
One popular legend explaining the history of Valentine’s Day is that it stems back to an ancient Roman holiday celebrating the goddess Juno, the reigning queen of all the Roman deities, as well as the goddess of marriage and romantic love. The ancient Roman holiday is thought to have been celebrated on February 14th and followed by the Feast of Lupercalia on the very next day, February 15th.
According to the traditions of the Roman holiday, on the 14th, the eve of the feast, each of the young men in town would draw a slip of paper with the name of one of the young girls. The name the young man drew would be the name of the girl he would chaperone throughout the entire day of the Feast of Lupercalia. Sometimes the pairing would last for longer than just one day. The co-mingling of boys and girls on the day of the feast was a big event, as boys and girls were kept very separate in the Roman culture of the time.
Another infamous legend about the history of Valentine’s Day is that it is named after the Catholic Saint Valentine who, in the year 269 AD defied the Emperor Claudius when he ruled a cancellation of all engagements, weddings, and marriages in Rome. As a priest, Saint Valentine continued to marry young, eloping lovers against the emperor’s decree, and when he was found out, he was beheaded for his trouble. The sappiest part of the legend tells that, while awaiting execution, Saint Valentine fell in love with the jailor’s daughter and sent her a farewell note signed “from your Valentine”. Pope Gelasius, in 496 AD, declared February 14th to be Valentine’s Day in honor of his martyrdom.
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