A short history of Valentine’s Day

Hallmark holiday or storied tradition?

Whether you love it or hate it, Valentine’s Day has been around for a while, and definitely isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. Although romance cynics may say that it was invented by card companies, Valentine’s Day actually dates back centuries.

Ancient Rome – Festival of Lupercalia

The Pagan fertility festival of Lupercalia was celebrated each year on the 13th to the 15th of February. In the festival, goats and other animals were sacrificed and their hides used to hit women as it was believed to make them fertile for the coming year.

Think we'll stick with the chocolates thanks.
Think we'll stick with the chocolates thanks.

However, Pope Gelasius I was having none of this Pagan nonsense and re-hashed it as a Christian feast day in 496, declaring February 14th to be St Valentine’s day.

Happy 1521st Valentine’s Day everyone!

There is a bit of contention about who St Valentine actually was. But the popular story has it that during the reign of Claudius II, marriage was outlawed for young men as the emperor believed that single men made more dedicated soldiers. However, Valentine carried on performing marriage ceremonies for young couples in secret. Eventually, he was apprehended and imprisoned by the Romans. While in prison he sent a note to his beloved signing it ‘From your Valentine’. The Romans put him to death on February 14th.

Although a great story for a day based on romance, in 1969 the Catholic Church removed the feast day from their calendar as it’s difficult to prove the story of St Valentine true. But, by that point Valentine’s day was already cemented as the traditional day to send cards and exchange gifts with loved ones.

Jump forward to the 15th century

The first recorded Valentine’s note was sent from Charles the Duke of Orleans to his wife, while he was imprisoned in the Tower of London following his capture at the Battle of Agincourt.


“My very gentle Valentine,
Since for me you were born too soon,
And I for you was born too late.
God forgives him who has estranged
Me from you for the whole year.
I am already sick of love,
My very gentle Valentine.

Well might I have suspected
That such a destiny,
Thus would have happened this day,
How much that Love would have commanded.
I am already sick of love,
My very gentle Valentine.”


Everyone was well aware of Valentine’s Day at the beginning of the 17th century. William Shakespeare even mentioned Valentine’s Day in ‘Hamlet’.

‘Tomorrow is St Valentine’s Day,
All in the morning betime
And I a maid at your window
To be your Valentine’

18th Century

Valentine’s cards and notes started popping up everywhere, with the earlier versions being made of lace and paper. In 1797 the book ‘The Young Man’s Valentine’s Writer’ was published suggesting messages and rhymes for the gentlemen in love.


At the same time the postal service was becoming more and more affordable, so people could send anonymous valentines. This tradition becomes so popular that factories started to mass produce cards.


Valentine’s Day may not be a Hallmark holiday, but in 1913, Hallmark did produce their first Valentine’s card.

This paved the way for the mass productions of terrifying card such as these:


As if cards and flowers weren’t enough, the jewellery industry weighed in on the holiday in the mid 1980s.

Valentine’s Day started to be marketed as the time of year to give jewellery, particularly diamonds, to a loved one. This quickly became a tradition, with jewellery still being widely sold as the perfect Valentine’s gift.

One of the best diamond advertising campaigns
One of the best diamond advertising campaigns


Over a billion cards are estimated to be sent each year to partners, friends and even to pets. This makes Valentine’s day the second heaviest card-giving holiday behind Christmas.

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Abbie Dickinson

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