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The Evolution of Valentine’s Day

The history and dramatic evolution of St. Valentine's Day

If you think Valentine’s Day isn’t what it used to be, you’re right, and not just because of the ever-expanding commercialism. The holiday has undergone massive evolution in its long history, and it seems like the changes have even sped up in recent years. 

Records are a little murky when it comes to determining who the holiday was named for, and exactly how it began, but historians have uncovered many details about the past that shed light on the origins. Many historians believe that there were three Christian saints with the name Valentine in the time period when the saint who gave his name to the holiday likely lived. It is most likely, however, that the man who ended up being memorialized in the day's name was a third century Roman priest who served under Emperor Claudius II.

In order to encourage young men to fight their best during the battles of the time, Emperor Claudius II banned marriage for young people. He felt that not having wives would make them better soldiers, furthering his military goals and securing his reign. This decree drove the priest Valentine to action, fixing what he saw was an unjust ban on an important religious ceremony.

“This is where Valentine comes in; the pesky priest who believed marriage to be a God-given sacrament,” reports the Huffington Post. “Valentine began officiating marriages in secret but was eventually found out and imprisoned.”

Although it can't be confirmed, it has been suggested that the notes passed to Valentine when he was in prison were the original Valentine's cards. The transformation from prison notes to love letters is the perfect example of how the holiday's origins are so different from the way we celebrate today.

“The priest was eventually beheaded and then named a martyr by the Church because he gave up his life to perform the sacrament of marriage: for love of love and love of God,” states author Greg Tobin.

Pope Gelasius I declared that February 14 would be St. Valentine’s Day at the end of the fifth century. After that, poets and other authors took the idea of the day and began changing it into a day to celebrate romance. Shakespeare even had a hand in the holiday's evolution, making reference to Valentine's Day in his work.

In recent years, Valentine's Day has expanded to include not just romantic love but to encompass all types of love. Now, single people aren't left out because it isn't uncommon to celebrate the love between family members and friends on February 14. 

So this Valentine's Day, make sure you show everyone close to you how much you love and appreciate them, and don't forget St. Valentine who gave his life for love.


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