What Is Valentine’s Day, and Why Do We Celebrate It?

What Is Valentine’s Day?

This holiday didn’t just magically appear out of nowhere, and contrary to popular belief, it wasn’t invented by greeting card companies. Valentine’s Day has a rich (and slightly morbid) history that you may not know about.

What is Valentine’s Day?

Valentine’s Day is an annual holiday celebrated in the United States and many other countries around the world. Historically, it has commemorated romantic love, but recently, it’s been expanded to include all types of love.

When is Valentine’s Day?

This holiday always occurs on the 14th day of the month of February, but the day of the week rotates. Below, you’ll learn which day of the week to expect the holiday for the next five years.

  • Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2024
  • Friday, Feb. 14, 2025
  • Saturday, Feb. 14, 2026
  • Sunday, Feb. 14, 2027
  • Monday, Feb. 14, 2028

Is Valentine’s Day an official holiday?

Valentine’s Day was never named an official national holiday in the United States, but it continues to be a popular holiday in the country.

How did Valentine’s Day start?

Answering “What is Valentine’s Day?” is simple, but the history of the holiday is a bit more complex. Like many modern holidays that have been celebrated for centuries, Valentine’s Day has its roots in paganism. Lupercalia was a pagan fertility festival typically celebrated in February. Like the Valentine Cupid, it had ties to a Roman god. The festival was dedicated to Faunus, the Roman god of agriculture, and to Romulus and Remus, the Roman founders.

Lupercalia was all about fertility, but not in the modern sense of love and romance. Priests from an order called Luperci sacrificed a goat and dog, skinned them, soaked their hides in blood and then used them to gently “whip” young women, a tradition aimed at making the women more fertile. After that, the women’s names were put in a jar, and each eligible young man drew a name, forming a couple for the next year (and possibly leading to marriage if it worked out).

Who is Valentine’s Day named for?

Valentine’s Day is named for St. Valentine. But it gets more complicated from here. As it turns out, at least three Valentines were sainted by the Catholic Church, and each one has his own group of supporters claiming he’s behind the holiday.

Who were the Valentines sainted by the church?

The first St. Valentine was a rebel, defying a decree from the Roman Emperor Claudius II, which said young men were not allowed to be married and had to serve in the military instead. (The Romans believed single men made better soldiers.) St. Valentine continued to marry lovers in secret.

The second St. Valentine helped Christian prisoners escape Roman jails—until he was caught and imprisoned himself. His last act before death was to miraculously heal the daughter of his jailer, thereby converting the whole family to Christianity. In some versions of the story, St. Valentine II was even in love with the daughter, but their love was tragically cut short.

The third St. Valentine was a Catholic bishop in Terni. History doesn’t remember much about him, and the stories of all three saints have become entwined over the centuries. The story became so murky and confusing that, in 1969, the Catholic Church removed the St. Valentine’s feast day from the Christian liturgical calendar.

But there was one unfortunate thing all three men had in common besides their name, and it’ll give you pause before uttering your next “Happy Valentine’s Day.” In a very unromantic twist, all three were martyred by beheading by different Roman emperors. In some versions of the stories, the men were all executed on or near Feb. 14 (in different years), but historians have been unable to verify that detail.

Why is Valentine’s Day on Feb. 14?

The holiday is on Feb. 14 because Christians wanted the church to be separate from Lupercalia. In an effort to clean up the pagan holiday, Pope Gelasius I integrated Lupercalia with St. Valentine’s Day in the fifth century. The new holiday quickly spread to all the countries that practiced Christianity. Chaucer and Shakespeare also played a part in the history of Valentine’s Day by changing the holiday from a bloody sex festival to a modern love story by writing about it in a sweet, lighthearted, and decidedly less-lascivious way.

Christian settlers brought the holiday with them to the New World, where it became one of the most popular holidays during the Victorian era. In the 1900s, people began giving one another Valentine’s Day cards—and Hallmark began offering them in 1913. The tradition grew from there, and today Hallmark estimates 145 million Valentine’s Day cards are exchanged each year.

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