The roots of Valentine’s Day can be traced back down to ancient Roman mythology for festivals honoring Gods and Goddesses for Women, Marriage and Fertility. On the top tier, we have Juno, said to be the Queen and mother of all Gods and Goddesses on Mt. Olympus. Her day was held on February 14. In continuity of the celebration for women, marriage and fertility, a festival called Lupercalia was held on the next day.
But this festival was held in the honor of two other related Gods, who were Lupercus who lorded over the pastures and forests and Faunus for agriculture. They were described as very similar to the Greek version that is the half-man half-goat God called Pan. This festival began with sacrifice of a dog (for purification) and a goat (for fertility) and their skins when worn and also cut into strips or thongs and dipped into blood to be slapped on the hands of women who wish for purification and fertility in the coming year.
These strips were called Februa and this many believe is the real origin of name February.
This sacrifice was made near the cave Lupercal, which was the place that the rescued infants and future founders of Rome, the twin brothers Romulus and Remus were cared for by a she-wolf or “lupa”. So actually, Lupercalia means “festival of the wolf” and actually makes the twins as co-celebrators along with the other Gods.
To play up the essence of this seasonal festival and induce matches, the names of girls were placed into a jar and drawn out by chance by a lucky partner. This partnership may have lasted for a month, but some scholars say that they would be paired together until the next year.
This pagan practice went on until the reign of Claudius II, also known as Claudius the Cruel who had trouble manning his army since most men would not leave their wives or lovers. So he had it outlawed, as he believed that single men made better soldiers.
By this time Christianity had spread in Rome and there were at least three Christian Romans named Valentine or Valentinus who were all martyred one way or another. Amongst them was a priest who actually help many escape being drafted into the army by marrying couples in secret. Claudius soon caught up to them and had Valentine accosted in jail and afterwards executed on February 14, 269 A.D. It is now believed that he was able to befriend the Jailer’s daughter who believed in his cause and at the last day of his incarceration was able to leave a note for her prior to his execution. On this note was written the classic line “Love, from your Valentine”.
Christianity continued to spread and by the late 5th Century (496 AD), Pope Gelasius declared a holy day for honoring St. Valentine. As the centuries rolled on into the Renaissance, the pagan traditions of matchmaking were soon replaced with romantic art, poetry and music for a feast in the pursuit of love. Because of its surging popularity from the 15th to the 18th century, the English and the French took to this romantic tradition along with the act of using handwritten letters, sweets, flowers and other small tokens for passionate declarations of love.
By the 1700’s the American’s got into the giving of handmade letters during Valentine’s but by 1840, Esther Howland was credited for creating the commercialized printed version of these cards. Nowadays more than a billion of these cards are bought on Valentines Day, and also spurred into strength the iconic tokens of chocolate, candy and flowers.
As an endnote, the use of Cupid came into significance also because of Roman myth. He was a boy-God of love, who was sired by Venus, the Goddess of love and beauty. He was reputed to have a quiver full of arrows of desire to strike all that he sees but on special occasions would use this to created mischief at his mother’s behest.