6 Facts About Valentine's Day You Didn't Know - History Bombs
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6 Facts About Valentine’s Day You Didn’t Know

Happy Valentine’s Day from us at History Bombs! Let’s take a quick journey back in time to uncover the quirky origins of this day of love—from ancient Rome’s fertility festival, Lupercalia, to the romantic acts of St. Valentine, and the evolution of the very first Valentine’s card.

Discover how centuries-old traditions have shaped the way we express affection today and have shaped this romantic holiday!

1. Ancient traditions 

Long before Valentine’s Day became synonymous with romance, the ancient Romans celebrated Lupercalia, a mid-February festival that combined fertility rites and matchmaking. Unlike the romantic dinners of today, this festival involved rather peculiar traditions, including striking women with goat hides to promote fertility. 

The name Lupercalia derives from the Latin lupus, meaning wolf, but the significance of this is unclear – it may relate to Lupa, the she-wolf who suckled Romulus and Remus, or to the significance of wolves in male rites of passage.

The Lupercalian festival drawn by Elsheimer (1578–1610 CE)

2. Who was St Valentine?

The holiday gets its name from St Valentine, but this wasn’t just one person. The holiday honours at least two men named Valentine or Valentinus, both of whom were martyred on February 14th in different years. Their stories are relatively unclear, but they’re celebrated for their acts of heroism and romantic gestures.

One legend, for example, states that after Emperor Claudius II banned marriage (claiming that married men make poor soldiers), St Valentine was a priest who performed weddings for these soldiers. After this, he became known as the patron saint of love, hence the association of love with St Valentine’s day.

3. The first ever Valentine’s Day card

The oldest known Valentine in existence is a poem written in 1415 by Charles, Duke of Orleans, to his wife while he was imprisoned in the Tower of London after the Battle of Agincourt. The young Duke was writing to his second wife, Bonne, who was only 11 years old when they married. 

Sadly for Charles, the two would never meet again, as Charles was in line for the French throne, so the English king, Henry V, said that he should never be released. His heartfelt message is housed in the British Museum and marks the beginning of the tradition of exchanging love notes.

4. Why do we use Xs as kisses?

The use of “X” to signify a kiss dates back to the Middle Ages. At a time when literacy rates were low, people often signed documents with a cross, symbolising their sincerity and a promise made before God. After marking the cross, the signer would kiss it as a sign of their oath, effectively “sealing” the agreement with a gesture of faith and honesty.

Over time, this practice evolved beyond legal documents, becoming a symbol of love and affection. Today, the “X” at the end of a letter, text message, or email is a warm, shorthand expression of affection, tying us back to a centuries-old tradition of pledges, promises, and, of course, kisses.

Learn more about the Middle Ages in our Medieval series!

5. Wearing your heart on your sleeve?

This expression finds its origins in the customs of the Middle Ages, particularly in the context of Valentine’s Day celebrations. During this era, it was not uncommon for individuals to literally wear their affections in a visible manner. One such tradition involved young people drawing names to discover their Valentine. They would then pin this name to their sleeves for a week, allowing everyone to see whom they cherished. This practice served as a public declaration of their romantic interests, effectively putting their feelings on display—much like the exposed heart metaphor suggests. 

6. Valentine’s Day’s poetic roots 

What truly solidified the connection between Saint Valentine and love was a poem by medieval author Geoffrey Chaucer in 1375, “Parliament of Foules” (or “Parliament of Birds”) which historians consider the origin of the “modern” celebration of Valentine’s Day, where we celebrate our romantic partnership with one other person.

In this poem, Chaucer links the tradition of celebrating romantic love with the feast of St. Valentine for the first time in recorded history. The poem narrates a dream in which the speaker witnesses a gathering of birds who come together on St. Valentine’s Day to choose their mates. The famous lines, “For this was on St. Valentine’s Day, when every bird cometh there to choose his mate,” effectively transformed Valentine’s Day from a minor Christian feast day into a celebration of romantic love. Chaucer’s poetic vision of birds pairing off on this day played a key role in popularising the association of Valentine’s Day with love and courtship in the collective imagination, setting the stage for the holiday’s modern incarnation as a day for expressing love and affection.

From the peculiar fertility rites of ancient Rome’s Lupercalia to the heartwarming exchanges of valentines and the poetic musings of Chaucer, Valentine’s Day has evolved through the ages into a global celebration of love and affection. Happy Valentine’s Day!

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