Giant teddy bears. Mass produced greeting cards. Heart shaped chocolates. Little toy Cupids that say “Be mine!” when you press their foot. This is modern Valentine’s Day in a nutshell, but it wasn’t always like this. Way back in “ye olde history,” it once had a very deep, religious, and poetic meaning that has become muddled over time.
Modern Valentine’s Day has its roots in the execution of the Christian priest St. Valentine in ancient Rome. Legend has it that St. Valentine was killed because he was Christian, and failed to convert to the Roman religion. He soon became a Christian martyr, along with another guy named Valentine, who became a martyr after he was killed in Italy during Christian persecution (seriously, how many Christian guys were named Valentine back then?).
After a while, tons of people wrote stories about the Valentine guys, particularly St. Valentine from ancient Rome. February 14 became a feast day in honor of the Valentine martyrs. After some time, the celebration became associated with courtly love, although exactly how is not known for sure.
Many popular Valentine’s Day symbols also have special meanings and origins. The shape of the heart symbol (which doesn’t resemble a human heart at all) may have been influenced by the shape of the silphium seed pod, which became a symbol of romantic love through many old writings. The symbols of the rose and the dove were influenced by stories of Greek goddess of love Aphrodite; her sacred bird was a dove and her favoured plant was the rose. The image of Cupid comes from the Romans, who believed he was the male personification of love. Over time, many of these symbols found themselves on love cards, which, with the rise of postage stamps, became increasingly popular.
Although modern Valentine’s Day may just be an excuse for corporations to profit off of the antics of young lovers, the holiday has very deep and meaningful roots in history, which are preserved in modern traditions to this day.