The History of Valentine’s Day

February fourteenth is a holiday we are all familiar with. It’s a day for lovers and sweethearts. It’s a day for exchanging cards, and giving roses and candy to the ones we love. But long ago, in the days of ancient Rome, February 14th was no different than any other day. But the next day, February 15th, was a celebrated holiday. At that time, it was called “Lupercalia.” It was a fertility ceremony that honored the gods Lupercus, Faunus, and the builders of Rome, Romulus and Remus.

On Lupercalia Eve, the young Roman girls wrote their names on pieces of paper. The papers were then placed in an urn. The Roman boys then took turns choosing a paper. Whoever’s name they chose, that’s the girl they were united with for the entire length of the Lupercalia festival. Each boy would place the piece of paper he chose on his sleeve. He would also give the girl he chose flowers and other gifts.

Now enter into the picture Emperor Claudius the Second. He ruled Rome around 270 A.D. He was known as a mad, ferocious warrior. Claudius’ armies lacked a sufficient number of soldiers. Trying to figure out why the young men didn’t want to go to battle, the ruler finally decided that the men didn’t want to leave their wives and girlfriends. So, Emperor Claudius the Second came up with a solution- he would outlaw marriages and engagements in Rome!

The new law caused quite a stir among the townspeople, especially with the young lovers who wanted to marry. It really served no purpose. It only showed how mentally unbalanced the emperor actually was! However, since Roman emperors were in such a position of high authority, the people had no choice but to obey the law.

Until, that is, a priest by the name of Valentine stepped forward. He did not believe in Claudius’ new law, and he refused to abide by it. To rebel openly against the emperor would bring him certain death. So, Valentine continued to perform wedding ceremonies, but he did them in secret.

Unfortunately, the dreaded day came when Valentine’s activities were discovered. He was caught by Claudius’ soldiers while he was performing a marriage ceremony. Emperor Claudius was outraged that Valentine disobeyed his law! Therefore, he ordered that the priest be put to death as punishment for his crime.

Valentine was placed in a prison cell until the time of his execution came. While he was there, many of the couples he had married showed their support of Valentine. They placed flowers, gifts, and words of thanks through the bars of his window. One admirer was a young girl who wasn’t married. She was the daughter of the prison guard. She respected the priest for doing what he knew was right. So, she visited Valentine in his prison cell while he waited to be executed. The two ended up falling in love.

Finally, on February 14th, Valentine the priest was scheduled to die. While he awaited the arrival of the Roman soldiers, he wrote a note to the girl telling her how much he loved her. He signed it simply, “From Your Valentine.”

It wasn’t until the year 496 A.D. that Pope Gelasius ended the pagan Lupercalia holiday. He then named Valentine as the patron saint of lovers. The brave priest was to be honored at a new festival on the fourteenth day of February.

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