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Why We Give On Valentine’s Day: A Quick History of the Day

If you ask us, sometimes Valentine’s Day doesn’t get enough respect. As we’re assembling our Valentine’s Day gift baskets, we’re thinking about all the ways it tends to get a bad rap. This is a day that’s devoted to the beauty of romantic love, and the rightness of expressing it. There truly ain’t anything wrong with that! If you learn a little about the history of the occasion, like we decided to do, you might even feel inspired to mark the holiday with that much more enthusiasm.

The History of Valentine’s Day

History of Valentine's Day

As with most holidays in the western world, Valentine’s Day is an occasion that borrows from ancient Roman tradition as well as the Catholic Church. Historians aren’t totally sure how true the various myths feeding into its traditions are, but they’re powerful stories nonetheless.

Here’s what we know: the holiday is named after three different saints recognized by the Catholic Church who were called Valentine or Valentinus. All of them were martyred by the Roman Empire. 

The most famous of these saints was a priest who lived during the third century. At that time, the Roman Emperor Claudius had decreed that young men weren’t allowed to marry because he wanted them to be better soldiers. But Valentine understood that denying these young men the chance to have their own families was cruel. He chose to continue marrying young lovers secretly. When Claudius found out, he put the priest to death. St. Valentine died standing up for the right of people who loved each other to marry—isn’t that powerful? 

So, why does Valentine’s Day happen on February 14th? Well, that’s probably because that’s when the ancient celebration of Lupercalia occurred. Lupercalia was a fertility festival for the Roman god of agriculture. The Church started holding a St. Valentine's feast on Lupercalia to make it a Christian event. 

During Lupercali, Roman priests would gather in a sacred cave, and make animal sacrifices that they believed would enhance the fertility of the fields and women. Then, young women would place their names in a jar and the young men of the city would draw names. By the end of the day, many of these matches would end in marriage engagements. But all of these customs ended when the fifth-century pope Gelasius outlawed Lupercali, making St. Valentine’s Day the official occasion of February 14th.

Eventually, during the Middle Ages, people began sending each other Valentine’s Day greetings. A few famous Europeans like King Henry V and Charles, Duke of Orleans, popularized the custom by sending poems and notes to their lovers. By the middle of the 1700s, it was common to exchange notes or gifts expressing affection on Valentine’s Day. By writing a private note or card, people could express more vulnerable and sentimental feelings than they normally would at this time in history. And of course, the custom of expressing those feelings only became more popular with time; today, 145 million Valentine’s Day cards are sent each year. (Hmmm, we wonder how many Valentine’s Day gift baskets are sent?)

So…Valentine’s Day is associated with romantic love against all odds. It’s also linked with marriage and the joys of pregnancy and family. And it’s a time when we express what we might not express at any other time with messages and gifts. We think these are beautiful traditions to honour.

Seize the chance to express your love

So, do you have someone in your life that you love enough to express it with a gift? Need a quick idea? We have Valentine’s Day gift baskets for every type of lover. A foodie? A wellness fan? This is a really quick and easy way of letting them know how you feel. It’s so worth it!


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