The history of Valentine’s Day can be traced back to the pagan festival of Lupercalia. In modern times it became associated with Saint Valentine the martyr. Saint Valentine is best known for secretly marrying couples during the time of emperor Claudius II. Claudius II was a warlike emperor who had a hard time building his armies. He believed men were less likely to join because they had wives and families, so he cancelled all engaments and forbid any new marriages. Saint Valentine continued to perform marriage ceremonies in secret. When he was caught he was thrown in the dungeons, where he was befriended by the jailers blind daughter. He is said to have miraculously cured her blindness. Eventually he was sentenced to death clubbed and beheaded on February 14th. He is said to have left a note for the jailer’s daughter that was signed ‘from your Valentine.’
In later times the leaders of the Christian church were eager to do away with the pagan festivals and replaced Lupercalia with the feast day of Saint valentine. However, the tradition of young men choosing young maidens continued on.
By the beginning of the 18th century in Europe it was commonplace that friends and lovers exchanged notes, poetry, or small gifts. The first Valentine’s card is credited to Esther A. Howland in the 1840’s. By the end of the century with mass production and improved commercial printing, store bought cards had begun to replace hand made notes.
Today Valentine’s Day is celebrated in the United States, Mexico, Canada, the United Kingdom, France and Australia.