Valentine’s Day has a long and complex history that has evolved over centuries. The holiday is believed to have originated as a Christian feast day honoring one or more early Christian martyrs named Saint Valentine, who were associated with acts of love and sacrifice.
The most popular origin story traces the holiday back to the Roman Empire, where Emperor Claudius II outlawed marriage for young men in order to keep them focused on military service. According to legend, a priest named Valentine defied the emperor’s orders and continued to perform marriages in secret. When Valentine’s actions were discovered, he was imprisoned and eventually executed.
Another story suggests that Valentine may have been a bishop who secretly married couples during a time when marriage was forbidden. In this version of the story, Valentine also allegedly helped Christians who were being persecuted by the Roman Empire.
Over time, Valentine’s Day became associated with romantic love and affection. In the 14th and 15th centuries, the holiday began to be celebrated in the form of courtly love, in which knights would express their love for noblewomen through poetry and other gifts. The first recorded Valentine’s Day message was a poem written in 1415 by Charles, Duke of Orleans, to his wife while he was imprisoned in the Tower of London.
In the 19th century, Valentine’s Day became increasingly commercialized in the United States, with the introduction of mass-produced Valentine’s Day cards and other gifts. Today, the holiday is celebrated around the world as a day for expressing love and affection, typically observed on February 14th with gifts of chocolates, flowers, and cards.