Today, we know February 14th as Valentine’s Day, a yearly occasion for sharing sweet chocolates, aromatic roses, and romantic kisses with the one we love. But, did you know that this beautiful holiday, celebrated for hundreds of years throughout the Western world, goes back to the times when Christians were persecuted under the Roman Empire?
Saint Valentine of Rome was imprisoned for performing weddings for soldiers who were forbidden from marrying or ministering to Christians. According to legend, he cured the daughter of his jailer during his imprisonment, and on the day he was executed, she found from him a letter signed “Your Valentine” as a farewell.
It wasn’t until Geoffrey Chaucer’s time, in 14th-century England, that the day became associated with romantic love. By the 18th century, it had evolved into a yearly occasion for couples to express their heartfelt adoration, offering flowers, candies, and heart-shaped love letters—greeting cards we now know as valentines.
In Europe, lovers are given Saint Valentine’s Keys, small metal key-shaped charms, to “unlock the giver’s heart,” as are children, to ward off epilepsy (which is also called Saint Valentine’s Malady). Christian denominations around the world officially celebrate St. Valentine’s Day, though on varying dates. But it has its most enduring, and endearing, appearance here in the United States, where every year, schoolchildren exchange hundreds of millions of valentines, and loving couples shower each other with gifts and affection.