SCRIBES: Flowers and Chocolate – The Origin of Valentine’s Day

by Carter Watkinson, Jean Vanier Catholic High School

featuring the work of young journalists from Simcoe Muskoka Catholic District High Schools

Valentine’s Day is often associated with love, romance, and most importantly, chocolate. But what about the Saint behind the day? What did he do, how did he become a saint, and why do we celebrate his feast day every year?

Saint Valentine was a Roman man whose life is shrouded in mystery. Not much is known about his life besides a few stories of his miracles. One common story about Valentine is that of a miracle he performed. He was arrested and sent to the house of a judge. In front of that judge, he pledged his faith to Jesus. To test his faith, the judge invited Valentine to restore his blind daughter’s sight. Valentine agreed, and placing his hands on the daughter’s eyes, restored her vision. The judge pledged to obey any of Valentine’s commands in exchange for his miracle. Valentine wished for the judge to become baptized. The judge obliged, and with his newfound faith he freed all Christian prisoners from his household.

Valentine was also arrested for marrying young Christian couples – a grave offence in third century Rome. The emperor demanded he renounce his faith or be executed. He would not renounce his faith, and on the day of his execution, February 14th, he sent the judge’s daughter a note signed, “Your Valentine,”. He was martyred for his faith, and in the year 496 Pope Gelasius marked February 14th as his feast day.

The idea for Valentine’s day to be a celebration of love may have originated in the middle ages, as an alternative to the Pagan holiday of Lupercalia. It was during this time it became known as a day of love, romance, and devotion.

Valentine’s day continued to be practiced beyond the middle ages. This was also the time Valentine’s Day cards became popular. After being captured at the Battle of Agincourt, Charles D’Orleans wrote his wife a love poem containing a reference to the Saint. By the 1820’s, it was estimated that over 200,000 Valentine’s day cards were sent or received in the city of London alone. That number was quick to double as the new cultural phenomenon of Valentine’s day cards spread year after year. The tradition made its way to America as the newest English fashion. One small card company known as “Hallmark”, based in Kansas City, Missouri, became quite well known for their cards.

In 1861, Cadbury started to manufacture heart-shaped boxes of chocolate for Valentine’s day, and the idea spread like wildfire.

Saint Valentine, despite his virtually unknown past, has become a prevalent figure in modern culture, whether one realizes it or not.