The earliest known origin of Valentine's Day might just be from an ancient Roman festival called Lupercalia, that was celebrated from February 13 through February 15th. Lupercalia was observed to promote fertility, but how they went about doing that would make a priest cry. Which is exactly why when Christianity spread throughout Rome they sought to "Christianize" the festival by reenacting its ceremonial rituals instead of actually performing them.
"What was Lupercalia?" you may very well ask. Well, let's start from the beginning. Ancient Roman men, through instructions from their priests, would congregate in a sacred cave in the mountains, and, according to the History channel, the priests would then sacrifice a goat, for fertility, and a dog, for purification. After that, things got a little weird.
After the Roman men sacrificed the animals, they would cut their hides up into strips and dip them into sacred blood. The men would then get naked and take to the streets, gently slapping the women of the village with said bloody hides, which, wait for it, the women welcomed because they though it would make them more fertile.
As the "celebrations" drew to a close each night, unmarried Roman women would add their names to an urn which Roman bachelors would then take turns choosing from. These matchings would often last through the festival and sometimes lead to marriage.
While Lupercalia may have been the origin of the big V-day, the reason you're sweaty, waiting in line to buy an over-priced bouquet of flowers on the eve of February 14th, probably started from this man. Say hello to Claudius II or Marcus Aurelius Claudius, the emperor of Rome from 268-270 A.D.
Claudius II was getting real pissed that no young Roman men were signing up for his military. He surmised that the reason for this was because men favored getting married and starting a family over going to war. Go figure.
To rectify his dwindling army problem, Claudius II decided to outlaw marriage for young men. Why young men weren't immediately grateful for this is beyond me, but some Roman dudes decided that they needed to find a way to get around the Emperor's ruling.
St. Valentine, a priest in Rome at the time of Emperor Claudius II's rule, decided to defy "the man" and perform marriages to young couples. However, being a martyr for the cause in ancient Rome wasn't like the Occupy moments of today, and defying the Emperor put him in great danger.
St. Valentine was eventually imprisoned for his acts against the Emperor. Folklore suggests that while in jail, Valentine befriended the warden's daughter and wrote her a note that he signed, "From Your Valentine." Which, if true, would mean that was the first valentine ever sent.
According to multiple reports, St. Valentine was put to death on February 14th around 278 A.D. He was beaten and then beheaded for marrying young couples. However, he was eventually given Saint status by the Catholic church after his death for his courageous acts.
Years after the death of St. Valentine, when Christianity took over Romain life, the Pagan festival of Lupercalia officially became outlawed. You know, because of the whole naked men whipping women with bloody animal skin thing? But, since people were probably pretty bummed about that, Pope Gelasius decided to combine the death of St. Valentine with the death of Lupercalia into one holiday celebrated on February 14th called St. Valentine's Day.
It wasn't until the late 1300s that St. Valentine's Day took a more romantic turn. Geoffrey Chaucer, a famous poet at the time, composed a poem in honor of Richard II's engagement. The poem linked St. Valentines day with the time of year in which birds mate, signifying love.
In the 1600s, William Shakespeare referenced St. Valentines day in Hamlet with the lines,"To-morrow is Saint Valentine's day,/All in the morning betime,/And I a maid at your window,/To be your Valentine."
While cards and love notes began to be passed around as tradition on Valentine's Day as early as the mid-18th century, it wasn't until 1913 that the v-day game completely change. 1913 was the year that Hallmark made their first ever line of Valentine's Day cards, signifying the end of a cute, historical tradition and the beginning of an overly commercialized holiday.
I know what you're thinking, "The history of Valentine's Day doesn't seem romantic at all!" And you're right! It's really not. So you may want to ask yourself why exactly it is that you're buying into this billion (yes billion) dollar industry just to show the world that you are in "love."