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The History Of Valentine's Day Is Not As Romantic As You Think

Make your dinner reservations. Try to remember your girlfriend's favorite kind of flower. Buy those Fifty Shades of Grey movie tickets. It's about to be Valentine's Day.

Yes, the loveliest day of the year is almost upon us. These days, Valentine's Day is just another holiday ingrained in our culture. Of course, when you know Feb. 14 is approaching, you're going to plan something for that special someone, cry yourself silly while watching rom-com after rom-com or at least hit up your local pharmacy for some festive treats. It's tradition.

But as we all know, every holiday and tradition has its origin story, and Valentine's Day wasn't always all about those candy hearts with little messages on them. Here's how Valentine's Day got its start and became love's biggest day of the year.

The Unromantic Start of Valentine's Day

The history of Valentine's Day is still a bit obscure, but many attribute its origins to Lupercalia, an ancient Roman fertility festival that took place from Feb. 13 to Feb. 15. During this celebration, men sacrificed a goat and a dog and then used the slain animals' hides to whip any woman that came near them. Charming, isn't it? The festival also included a ritual that had a bit more relevance to love, a matchmaking lottery in which young men drew the names of women from a jar. The couple would then be together for the duration of Lupercalia or longer if it was a good match. It sounds like this is the origin of Tinder too.

Where Does the Name "Valentine" come from?

The "Valentine" in Valentine's Day actually comes from a man — or possibly two men. One Valentine was a Roman priest and doctor who married Christian couples. When Valentine tried to convert Roman Emperor Claudius II, the leader had him executed and in a rather gruesome way too. Valentine is said to have been beaten, stoned and then beheaded. Martyrologies also include another Valentine, who was a bishop in Terni, Italy. It is said that this bishop also defied Claudius, although some believe these two men were the same person. St. Valentine was martyred in 269 and is the patron saint of love, happy marriages and young people.

Why is Valentine's Day on Feb. 14?

Valentine's Day doesn't fall on Feb. 14 just to give us a major holiday during the shortest month of the year. There are actually a few explanations for it. One is the aforementioned Lupercalia festival was traditionally celebrated around that date, from Feb. 13 to Feb. 15. St. Valentine is also said to have been either executed or interred on Feb. 14. In 496, Pope Gelasius I marked Feb. 14 as a day to honor St. Valentine's martyrdom. Some say he also chose this date as a way to Christianize the pagan Roman feast of Lupercalia.

When Did Valentine's Day Become a Celebration of Love?

So this history of Valentine's Day so far is probably not putting anyone in the mood. How did we go from all of this violence to something actually romantic? Many point to Geoffrey Chaucer's 1382 poem "The Parliament of Fowls," which he wrote in celebration of the engagement of Richard II of England and Anne of Bohemia, as the first time Valentine's Day was connected with romantic love. The poem refers to St. Valentine's Day as the day when birds choose their mates, although there is some dispute that Chaucer was actually referring to May 2, the saint's day in the liturgical calendar of Valentine of Genoa. William Shakespeare also helped romanticize Valentine's Day, mentioning it in Ophelia's lament in Hamlet, for instance.

When Did Valentine's Day Become So Commercial?

Since the Middle Ages, couples gave handmade cards to one another. However, the practice of sending cards to loved ones really took off in the early 19th century when factories began to mass produce them. In 1913, Hall Brothers, which would later become Hallmark, started cranking out Valentine's Day cards, which would catapult their business to success and change the way we celebrate holidays forever.

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