A Brief History Of Valentine’s Day

photo by Kerri Shaver on Unsplash

As the clock ticks down to V-Day, you’re probably focused on where to buy roses (at the last minute?!) and which Hallmark card will say everything you need it to say to your significant other.

Valentine’s Day falls into the same category as anniversaries and birthdays. That category would be “Forget this day at your own peril.” As part of your prep work, you might want to stock up on some vital Valentine’s Day facts.

Specifically, we’re talking about the saint who started it all, St. Valentine. Yes, there really was a St. Valentine and his exploits are the stuff of legend or myths. It just depends on who you talk to.

Duo Valentines

Back in the early days of Christianity, (we’re talking way early AD) the quickest way to sainthood was to become a martyr. This was true of St. Valentine but there were actually two St. Valentines. One of them from Rome and one of them from Terni. Both of these Valentines have their relics interned at Italian churches.

In fact, you can see the flower-crowned skull of St. Valentine of Rome on proud display at the Basilica of Santa Maria in Cosemedin, Rome. How’s that for Valentine’s Day date?

The February 14th day was used to commemorate the day of the death of St. Valentine of Rome. He seems to be the real deal when it comes to Valentine’s Day. That date could also have been influenced by Lupercalia. This was a pagan holiday celebrated between February 13 to 15. It was the holiday of fertility. Starting to make sense, right?


There are quite a few legends surrounding St. Valentine. The most popular was that he went around marrying Roman soldiers in defiance to the Emperor’s decree. Valentine wore a Cupid ring to be recognized. Another legend has him falling in love with the daughter of his jailer. He would send her love letters from jail signed, “From your Valentine.” Supposedly, he also went around giving out little parchment hearts to remind people to keep hope and love in their hearts. As these tales were handed down through the years, the church kept celebrating February 14th as St. Valentine’s Day, things started to coalesce.

During the Middle Ages, there was a common belief that February 14th was the start of the birds’ mating season. That feeds into the whole romance idea of this special day. Poet Geoffrey Chaucer memorialized St. Valentine’s Day as a day of romantic celebration in a poem he wrote in 1375. From that time on, special Valentine poems and letters were sent to commemorate the day.

By the 1900s, printed cards pushed out written letters as the number one choice of Valentine couples. Each year, it is estimated that around 145 million Valentine’s Day cards are sent to mark the occasion. Of course, there are also millions spent on roses and chocolates. Throw in the engagement rings and Valentine becomes a $20 billion holiday. As holidays go, Valentine’s Day is very good for the economy.

The Massacre

You can’t really have a complete history of Valentine’s Day without bringing up the dark chapter of the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre. The year was 1929. The place, the garage at 2122 North Clark Street, Chicago. Al Capone’s Italian mob ran the South Side. Bugs Moran’s Irish held the North Side. These two gangs didn’t really care for each other.

As gang wars go, this massacre was in retaliation for a hit put out on two of Capone’s men, Patsy Lolordo and Antonio “The Scourge” Lombardo. The idea was to lure Bugs to the garage and let the lead fly. Bugs didn’t turn up but seven of his men did and they were given the business end of a Tommy gun.

Allegedly, the shooters were dressed as cops. The bricks from that original wall are now on display at the Mob Museum in Las Vegas. Another date idea?