Ah Valentine’s Day. Beloved by couples, greeting cards companies and florists the world over. But why do we give gifts and cards on February 14th?

Valentine’s Day actually started as a Christian day to worship Saint Valentine, or rather St Valentines as there were several. The main one associated with Valentine’s Day was a priest in Rome, who is believed to have been executed on February 14th, almost two thousand years ago. Some historians believe that his crime was performing the marriage of Christian couples. The emperor at the time, Claudias II, was not a fan of the church and had supposedly forbidden people from marrying. It is said that he thought young men would be less prepared to die in battle if they had a wife at home to mourn them. Instead, he encouraged them to take several lovers. Valentine continued to perform marriage ceremonies in secret, but was discovered and sentenced to death.

The story goes that Valentine healed the daughter of one of his jailers, and, on the day of his execution, left her a note, and signed ‘From your Valentine’. How much of this actually happened, we’ll likely never know.

St. Valentine’s Day started to be associated with love around the 14th Century, when the idea of romantic love gained popularity. Geoffrey Chaucer referred to Valentine’s Day in The Parliament of Fowls, as a day when birds would meet their mate.

A poem by the Duke of Orleans, which he wrote for his wife while imprisoned in the Tower of London in 1415, is believed to be the oldest surviving Valentine’s Day gift. The Duke wrote:

Je suis desja d’amour tanné
Ma tres doulce Valentinée

(I am already sick of love
My very gentle Valentine)

However, it wasn’t until many years later that the giving of tokens of love on Valentine’s Day became commonplace. In Victorian times, cards were hand drawn, and hand cut. They would have been quite expensive, so were cherished and many still survive today.

While February 14th is the most popular date for St. Valentine’s Day, the Eastern Orthodox Church celebrates it on July 6th. Other cultures and countries have different festivals to celebrate love. Columbia, for example, has Dia de Amor y Amistad (Love and Friendship Day) on September 20th.

Whether you’re celebrating with a loved one, heading out with friends, or doing your best to ignore the day altogether, we wish you a happy Valentine’s Day.

By Kate Duggan