Every year on the 14th February in the UK and around the world, gifts are exchanged between loved ones al in the name of Valentines. But where did this mysterious practice come from? Here is a little insight into this romantic tradition.

valentine's Couple

The Legend of St. Valentine

Legend has it that Valentine was a priest who served in Rome during the 3rd Century. The Emperor at the time, Claudius II, decreed that unmarried, single men made the best soldiers, thus outlawing marriage for young men. Valentine realised this injustice and continued to perform marriages for young lovers in secret. Claudius discovered Valentine’s actions and ordered him to death.

Legend has it the imprisoned Valentine managed to send the very first valentine greeting himself after he fell in love with the jailor’s daughter who visited him in prison.

The message ended… From your Valentine.

Pagan Festivals

Many people believe the origins of Valentine’s Day were the church’s effort to Christianise the Pagan ritual of Lupercalia, a fertility festival dedicated to Faunus (Roman god of agriculture) which celebrated the idea once a year in February 15. Roman priests would gather in a sacred cave where it is thought a she-wolf or lupa looked after the infants Romulus and Remus, whose story tells the events that led to the founding of the city of Rome and the Roman Kingdom by Romulus.

The priests would sacrifice a goat, for fertility, and a dog, for purification.  They would then strip the goat’s hide into strips, dip them into the blood and take to the streets, gently whipping both women and crop fields with the goat hide. Women welcomed the touch of the hides because it was believed to make them more fertile in the coming year.

Legend has it that women added their names onto a large Urn in the middle of the city. The city’s bachelors would select a name and they would pair up for the year… These matches often ended in marriage.

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Valentine’s Day: The most romantic day of the year

Lupercalia was eventually outlawed as being too un-Christian, when Pope Gelasius declared February 14 St. Valentine’s Day, however it wasn’t until some centuries later that the day become a celebration of love. During the middle ages it was thought that February 14 was the start of birds’ mating season, which only increased the idea that Valentine’s Day should be a day for romance.

Valentine greetings were popular during the Middle Ages from around 1400. The oldest know written message was a poem by Charles, Duke of Orleans, who wrote to his wife who was imprisoned in the Tower of London. This very letter is housed at the British Library in London.

Je suis desja d’amour tanné

Ma tres doulce Valentinée

This translates roughly as,
“I am already sick of love,
my very gentle Valentine”.

Other Valentine Greetings

In the 17th century Valentine’s Day is mentioned in Shakespeare’s Hamlet, when Ophelia has the following lines:

To-morrow is Saint Valentine’s day,
All in the morning betime,
And I a maid at your window,
To be your Valentine.

A more familiar Valentine’s poem made its first appearance in the 18th century. The lines, found in a collection of nursery rhymes printed in 1784, read:

The rose is red, the violet’s blue,
The honey’s sweet, and so are you.


While this was the first appearance of the poem in this form, its origins reach back to Sir Edmund Spenser’s 1590s epic, The Faerie Queene. This featured the lines:

She bath’d with roses red, and violets blew,
And all the sweetest flowres, that in the forrest grew.

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