In the weeks leading up to February 14, aisles in department stores will feature rows upon rows of chocolates, flowers, and gifts to celebrate St. Valentine’s Day, the national day for expressing love and affection.
Were the shelves always loaded with sweets and stuffed animals? When did we start celebrating Valentine’s Day? Many Catholics wonder if we can tie Cupid’s holiday to St. Valentine or if February 14 is simply a secular celebration. Let’s find out!
Who was St. Valentine?
The saint in which St. Valentine’s Day is based is actually a mystery. The Church recognizes at least three accounts of martyrs named Valentine or Valentinus who share a February 14 feast day, but a dozen or more St. Valentines, including a pope, existed. You can even choose to celebrate the female Valentina, whose feast day is in July.
The first St. Valentine was a priest beheaded by Emperor Claudius II in the 1400s for, allegedly, marrying Christian couples in secret after a ban on the marriage of young men so that they could be drafted for war. The second St. Valentine, a bishop, was arrested, scourged, and beheaded at the orders of Emperor Claudius II. Another St. Valentine was martyred in the Roman province of Africa around the year 270, though not much was recorded about his life.
The official Valentine that the Roman Catholic Church recognizes is St. Valentine of Rome. He is the patron saint of beekeepers, epilepsy, travel, and, of course, engaged and married couples.
Why Do We Celebrate Love on February 14?
These three saints died because of their love for God, but we celebrate the heroic love saints showed on all feast days. So why do we exchange flowers, chocolates, and cards when celebrating Valentine’s Day? Like the history of most of the St. Valentines, the origins of this secular holiday are shrouded.
The exchanging of gifts and greetings while celebrating Valentine’s Day dates as far back as the Middle Ages. The first mention of the holiday St. Valentine’s Day is in Geoffrey Chaucer’s poem “Parliament of Foules,” dated around 1375. While the first official Valentine was written by Charles, Duke of Orleans, from prison to his wife in 1415, Americans didn’t start exchanging handmade Valentine’s cards until the 1700s.
Therefore, it may just be a coincidence that we celebrate love on St. Valentine’s Day.
The Real Message
Couples, families, and friends in this modern world may commemorate St. Valentine’s Day by going out to dinner or hoping to get hit by Cupid’s arrow, but the real meaning behind this holiday lies a bit deeper.
Jesus’s sacrificial love is the highest form of love we can receive, and we are called to express this in our own lives every day. According to John 15:12–13, Jesus says, “Love one another as I have loved you. There is no greater love than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” Let’s respond to the love that Jesus gave to us by pledging to love one another on February 14.