The earliest origins of Valentine’s Day are not completely clear. Some people believe it stretches all the way back to a festival held in ancient Rome, although there has been no definitive proof to say so. There are several martyrdom stories associated with this holiday that in modern times is used for celebrating love.
Valentine was a popular name for saints and there are a few connected to February 14th. One in particular is Saint Valentine of Rome, who was imprisoned for performing weddings for soldiers forbidden to marry. According to the legend, the saint healed the daughter of his jailer and before his execution wrote her a letter signed, “Your Valentine.”
Chaucer, the famous 14th century poet, was the first person to associate Valentine’s Day with romantic love. In his poem, “Parlement of Foules”, he wrote:
For this was seynt Volantynys day
Whan euery bryd comyth there to chese his make.
(“For this was on St. Valentine’s Day/when every bird cometh there to choose his mate.”)
The custom of sending cards, flowers, chocolates, and other confectionaries originated in the UK, and there are still unique traditions across Europe. In many places, lovers offer keys as a romantic gesture symbolizing a way to “unlock the giver’s heart”. In Norfolk, a figure named Jack Valentine knocks on doors leaving sweets for children. In Slovenia, Saint Valentine is a saint of spring and good health.
Regardless of the holiday’s true origin, today it is a celebration of love and commitment, and is celebrated all over the world by hundreds of countries and cultures.