Valentine’s Day: how the death of a priest became a beloved holiday

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Rachel Bernstein

Davida Harris, Staff Writer

February is most closely associated with hearts, chocolates, and, of course, love. Everyone has their own traditions for this holiday, which can include gifting chocolate, wearing red and pink, or watching a good old romantic comedy. However, few people stop to consider the origins of this annual celebration. Where did this holiday, supposedly full of love, originate? And why is it a holiday today?

Valentine’s Day originated around 498 A.D. when it was declared a holiday by Pope Gelasius. The day is named after St. Valentine, who is believed to have be a martyr, or someone who was killed for his beliefs.

Valentine was a Christian priest during a time of religious persecution under the Roman Emperor Claudius. He was imprisoned and sentenced to execution simply because he advocated for marriage through the Church. Prior to his arrest, Valentine performed secret marriage ceremonies for his Christian community members.

Legend has it that while Valentine was awaiting his execution, he performed a miracle. He cured his jailer’s daughter, Julia, of her blindness. Julia, her family, and their servants all came to believe in Jesus Christ because of this miracle.

Valentine is associated with love because it is said that he always wished to remind soldiers of God’s love and to remain faithful Christians. According to records, Valentine was known to cut hearts out of parchment and give them to his soldiers. Before being executed, Valentine wrote a note to Julia, and signed it, “from your Valentine.” This is the origin of the modern tradition of giving valentines to loved ones.

Although St. Valentine is very old, his popularity did not arise until the Victorian era in the 1800s. His popularity is attributed to a poet by the name of Geoffrey Chaucer, who wrote a poem for King Richard the III about St. Valentine during the Middle Ages. Chaucer’s poem caused a surge in Valentine’s popularity, bringing the martyr out of obscurity.

During Victorian times, Valentine’s Day became an event eagerly anticipated by men and women alike. They could anonymously confess their love to each other through ornately decorated Valentine’s Day cards. Today, people can buy ready- made Valentine’s Day cards instead. The day has become a staple for Hallmark and other companies, profiting from the holiday’s sales. If you want to add a personal touch, you can make your own card instead of buying one.

Another popular Valentine’s Day tradition is exchanging chocolate. In the past, chocolate has been regarded as a sacred object, dating back to Aztec times, when chocolate was believed to be the food of the gods. However, it wasn’t until 1861 when Richard Cadbury invented the first ever heart-shaped box for Valentine’s Day that people began to associate chocolate with romance.

This Valentine’s Day, as you eat your Rite Aid chocolate and wonder about whether you should confess your love to your crush, remember old Saint Valentine!