History of Valentine's Day - A Fun Guide for Kids
Updated: Apr 4
Many of us are familiar with this romantic celebration on February 14th where people send mysterious love notes to their desired other signed from “your valentine”. But when did this sickly-sweet festival start and why is it so jam-packed full of mushy wushy lovey-ness?
Who Was St Valentine?
To find out where Valentine’s Day started, we really need to begin with the person it was named after, St Valentine.
The Catholic Church has nearly a dozen saints called Valentine (or Valentinus, or even Valentina) and there is some confusion over which saint represents the St Valentine in Valentine’s Day. However, most historians agree that it is likely Saint Valentine of Rome who died around 270 AD for breaking the laws set by Roman Emperor Claudius II.
Claudius thought unmarried men made better soldiers, so he banned young men from getting married. Valentine, being a true believer in the power of love, married young men and women in secret but was soon found out and made a martyr (a martyr is a person who is killed for their beliefs).
After becoming a martyr, Valentine was soon made into a saint by the Catholic Church. He became the patron saint of love (and, interestingly, also the patron saint of beekeeping and epilepsy, so that’s fun!) and became the poster boy for the modern day Valentines celebrations.
Why Do We Celebrate On 14th February?
This comes down to the Romans and the Catholic Church again. Some historians believe that St Valentine’s Day falls around the day that Valentine was killed by Emperor Claudius II. Others believe it is linked with the Roman festival called Lupercalia which was celebrated on the ides (meaning middle) of February.
Lupercalia was a festival of fertility where sacrifices were made to the god of fields and flocks, Faunus. If pleased, the god would bring about a fruitful year of harvest and ensure that lots of baby animals would be born. At the end of the 5th century, Pope Gelasius replaced the Lupercalia festival with the St Valentines feast on 14th February in an attempt to make the event more Christian.
When Did All The Romance Turn Up?
You’re right, making Lupercalia more “Christian” doesn’t turn the St Valentine’s Day feast into the lovey-dovey celebration we know today. So where did all the romance and kissy stuff turn up?
The date became more closely linked with romance much later when people believed mid-February to be the beginning of the season where birds would choose a mate.
Then English poet Geoffrey Chaucer turned up and finally joined the St Valentine’s Day feast with love and romance. His poem called “Parliament of Fowls”, written around 1375 contained the lines “For this was sent on Seynt Valentyne’s day / Whan every foul cometh ther to choose his mate.” Here Chaucer is talking about the birds coming together on Valentine’s Day and falling in love. Soon, everyone associated St Valentine’s Day with love.
When Did Valentine’s Cards Turn Up?
There is a myth that Saint Valentine of Rome (yes, that Saint Valentine, from back at the beginning) wrote a love note while he was in prison to the jailor’s daughter. The myth states that he even signed off at the end of the love note with the phrase “from your Valentine”.
The oldest Valentines greeting that still exists today was written by a gentleman called Charles, the Duke of Orleans, to his wife in 1415. He was imprisoned in the Tower of London at the time and penned a short poem where he called his wife his Valentine. Though it was another 300 years before Valentines greetings really rose to popularity and another 500 years before printed cards became a big trend.
Is your class loving learning about the Romans? Then you'll definitely want to bring Imagining History's 'Roman Britain: A Time Travel Tour' workshop to your school!