Valentine’s Day originates from the ancient Roman fertility festival of Lupercalia. During the festival, young men would draw the names of women from a box, and each couple would be paired until the following year’s celebration. Often they would fall in love and marry.
At around 270 AD Rome was facing battles and civil uprising. The men were not keen to join the army. Emperor Claudius II believed that the men did not want to leave their loved ones and summarily canceled all marriages and engagements. Two priests, Valentine and Marius, disobeyed the decree and secretly performed marriage ceremonies. Valentine was caught on February 14th and dragged to jail. Later in the day he was clubbed to death and beheaded. It is said that, before his execution, Valentine himself had fallen in love with the jailer’s daughter. He signed his final note to her, “From your Valentine.”
The fertility festival was celebrated until 496 AD when Pope Gelasius replaced it with a similar celebration. For patron saint of the celebration he chose the lovers’ saint, St Valentine. He also moved the date of the celebration from the 15th of February to the date of St Valentine’s death, February 14th. Through the centuries, Valentine’s Day came to be remembered more as the festival of love than as a religious day.
In 1969 it was dropped from the Roman Catholic calendar as a designated feast day. Esther Howland, the woman who produced the first commercial American Valentine’s Day cards in the 1840s, sold $5,000 in cards her first year of business. Today, over 1 billion Valentine’s cards are sent in the US – second in number only to Christmas cards.