Valentine’s Day is widely known as the day of the year when love is celebrated, and indeed, February has been a month of romance for centuries. The St. Valentine’s Day we observe today evolved both from ancient Roman and early Christian history.
There are many legends about who St. Valentine was. One story dates from the third century A.D. Apparently, Emperor Claudius II of Rome believed that single men made better warriors, so he banned marriage for young men throughout the empire. However, a priest named Valentine secretly continued to perform marriages for young couples. When his actions were discovered, he was put to death.
While some claim St. Valentine’s Day commemorates his death on February 14, others believe that the Catholic Church placed the feast day in the middle of February in an effort to co-opt the pagan celebration of Lupercalia.
Lupercalia was an Ancient Roman feast held in the middle of February in order to avert evil spirits and release health and fertility. The celebration also included a lottery, in which young men picked the names of women and then the two would be coupled up for the duration of the festival or perhaps for longer, if the match was right.
During the Middle Ages, it was commonly believed in France and England that February was the beginning of birds’ mating season, which added to the idea that the middle of the month should be a day for romance.
In England, Valentine’s Day began to be widely celebrated around the 17th century. Esther Howland was an artist and businesswoman who popularized Valentine's Day cards in America and published the first Valentine in 1849. According to the Hallmark Corporation, an estimated 145 million Valentine’s Day cards are sent each year, making Valentine’s Day the second largest card-sending holiday (with only Christmas ranking higher).
According to the National Retail Federation, spending for Valentine’s Day is projected to top $20 billion this year. In addition to the United States, Valentine’s Day is celebrated in Canada, Mexico, the United Kingdom, France, Australia, Denmark and Italy.