The legend of Valentine’s Day is said to have originated during the third century in Rome, under the reign of Emperor Claudius II. During his reign, Claudius decided that single men made better soldiers, so he outlawed marriage for young men to keep them focused and away from potential familial distractions. A young priest named Valentine decided the law was unjust and began defying the Emperor’s decree by continuing to perform marriages for young lovers in secret.
Claudius eventually discovered Valentine’s actions, had him arrested and soon after sentenced to death. During his time in jail, Valentine fell in love with his jailer’s daughter, who visited him in prison. Before he was put to death, Valentine sent a letter to the girl signed “from Your Valentine”, the basic expression we still use every year during this holiday. Valentine was executed on February 14, 270 AD.
Over 200 years later, around 496 AD, Pope Gelasius established the feast of St. Valentine on Feb. 14 to honor his memory, however, the Pope referred to the martyr and his acts as “being known only to God” because not much was really known about Valentine the priest. One account from the 1400s describes Valentine as a temple priest who was beheaded near Rome by the emperor Claudius II for helping Christian couples wed. A different account claims Valentine was the Bishop of Terni, also martyred by Claudius II on the outskirts of Rome. Accordingly each year on February 14, we continue to honor Saint Valentine’s final efforts by celebrating our love for significant others, spouses, family, and friends but what if that’s not really the reason we do it?
The medieval English poet Geoffrey Chaucer often took liberties with history, placing his poetic characters into fictitious historical contexts that he represented as real. No record exists of romantic celebrations on Valentine’s Day, Feb 14th prior to a poem Chaucer wrote around 1380. In his work “Parliament of Fouls,” he links a tradition of courtly love with the celebration of St. Valentine’s feast day–an association that didn’t exist until after his poem received widespread attention. The poem refers to February 14 as the day birds (and humans) come together to find a mate. Pardon the middle English but when Chaucer wrote, “For this was sent on Saint Valentine’s day / Whan every foul cometh ther to choose his mate,” he may have invented the holiday we know today. Of course, history also tells us that 150+ years later, the 14th of February was finally and officially designated St. Valentine’s Day in 1537 by King Henry VII of England.
For centuries, flowers have long symbolized fertility, love, marriage, and romance, but the romantic history of giving your loved one Valentine’s Day flowers comes from the old-fashioned custom of sending floral bouquets to pass on non-verbal messages. Introduced in the 18th century by Charles II of Sweden, each flower had a specific meaning attached to it, making it possible to have an entire conversation using only flowers. Today, people continue to send flowers on special occasions or to express sentiments of love and admiration. Here’s a great visual guide for the meaning of rose colors to enjoy. It may even help a few folks pick the perfect color flowers to let their Valentine know how they feel about them.