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How did Valentine's Day begin and who was St. Valentine?

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The real story, facts and history behind February 14

Many of us associate the 'most romantic day of the year' with flowers and cards, but what's the real reason we celebrate?

It's renowned for being the 'most romantic day of the year. And many of us use it as an opportunity to show affection for our loved ones with cards, flowers or chocolates. But why exactly do we celebrate Valentine's Day and why does it fall on February 14?

Well we've trawled through the history books to find out the real reasons so you don't have to - and the background casts a very different light on the holiday.

How did Valentine's Day begin?

Valentine's Day is an old tradition thought to have originated from a Roman Festival known as Lupercalia, according to History.com. It was held on February 15 as a fertility festival dedicated to Faunus, the Roman god of agriculture. During the celebrations boys would draw names of girls from a box and the pair would be partners during the festival. These matches often led to marriage.

The festival survived the initial rise of Christianity but was outlawed at the end of the 5th century when Pope Gelasius declared February 14 St Valentine's Day.

Poet Chaucer may have made it all up

Chaucer, as in The Canterbury Tales writer, may have actually been behind Valentine's Day. The medieval English poet took quite a few liberties with history. He'd drop his poetic characters into real-life historical events leaving readers wondering if that's what really happened.

There is no actual record of Valentine's Day before Chaucer's poem in 1375. It's in Parliament of Foules that he links the tradition of courtly love to the St Valentine's feast day - the tradition didn't exist until after his poem.

The poem refers to February 14 as the day of birds coming together to find a mate. “For this was sent on Seynt Valentyne’s day / Whan every foul cometh ther to choose his mate,” he wrote and maybe invented Valentine's Day as we now know it.

Who was St Valentine?

The St Valentine that inspired the holiday may have been more than one man. The saint officially recognized by the Roman Catholic Church was a real person who died around AD 270.

An account from 1400s describes Valentine as a priest who was beheaded by Emperor Claudius II for helping Christian couples wed.

The emperor had banned marriage as he thought single men made better soldiers. Valentine felt this was unfair so he celebrated marriages in secret. When the emperor found out he was thrown in jail and sentenced to death.

“Valentinus” is from the Latin word for worthy, strong or powerful, and was a popular name between the second and eighth centuries AD meaning there are several martyrs with the same name. There are actually a dozen Valentines listed and there's even a Pope Valentine. The actual day we celebrate is known as St Valentine of Rome to set him apart.

Why are roses associated with Valentine's Day?

Roses have been the symbol of love since the early 1700s when Charles II of Sweden brought the Persian poetical art known as the "language of flowers" to Europe. Throughout the 18th century, ladies loved their floral dictionaries, which listed the symbolic meanings of different flowers, according to YourTango.com. The red rose was believed to be the flower favored by Venus, the Roman Goddess of Love, and has therefore come to represent that.

When did Valentine's Day become commercial?

It wasn't until the 18th century that Valentine's Day took off in England. Lovers began to send trinkets, cards and flowers to their loved ones. A huge amount of printed cards would get sold, then in 1913 Hallmark Cards in Kansas City began mass producing specific Valentine's Day cards. Now about a billion cards are sold every year and it's the second biggest card sending time of the whole year.

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