Valentine’s Day, also called Saint Valentine’s Day or the Feast of Saint Valentine, is celebrated annually on February 14. Originating as a Western Christian feast day honoring one or two early saints named Valentinus, Valentine’s Day is recognized as a significant cultural, religious, and commercial celebration of romance and romantic love in many regions around the world, although it is not a public holiday in any country.
Martyrdom stories associated with various Valentines connected to February 14 are presented in martyrologies, including a written account of Saint Valentine of Rome imprisonment for performing weddings for soldiers, who were forbidden to marry and for ministering to Christians persecuted under the Roman Empire.According to legend, during his imprisonment Saint Valentine restored sight to the blind daughter of his judge, and before his execution he wrote her a letter signed “Your Valentine” as a farewell.
The day first became associated with romantic love within the circle of Geoffrey Chaucer in the 14th century, when the tradition of courtly love flourished. In 18th-century England, it evolved into an occasion in which lovers expressed their love for each other by presenting flowers, offering confectionery, and sending greeting cards (known as “valentines”). Valentine’s Day symbols that are used today include the heart-shaped outline, doves, and the figure of the winged Cupid. Since the 19th century, handwritten valentines have given way to mass-produced greeting cards. In Europe, Saint Valentine’s Keys are given to lovers “as a romantic symbol and an invitation to unlock the giver’s heart”, as well as to children, in order to ward off epilepsy (called Saint Valentine’s Malady.
Saint Valentine’s Day is an official feast day in the Anglican Communion and the Lutheran Church. Many parts of the Eastern Orthodox Church also celebrate Saint Valentine’s Day, albeit on July 6 and July 30, the former date in honor of the Roman presbyter Saint Valentine, and the latter date in honor of Hieromartyr Valentine, the Bishop of Interamna (modern Terni).
Valentine’s Day is mentioned ruefully by Ophelia in William Shakespeare’s Hamlet (1600–1601):
“To-morrow is Saint Valentine’s day,
All in the morning betime,
And I a maid at your window,
To be your Valentine.
Then up he rose, and donn’d his clothes,
And dupp’d the chamber-door;
Let in the maid, that out a maid
Never departed more.”
— William Shakespeare, Hamlet, Act IV, Scene 5
John Donne used the legend of the marriage of the birds as the starting point for his epithalamion celebrating the marriage of Elizabeth, daughter of James I of England, and Frederick V, Elector Palatine, on Valentine’s Day:
“Hayle Bishop Valentine whose day this is
All the Ayre is thy Diocese
And all the chirping Queristers
And other birds ar thy parishioners
Thou marryest every yeare
The Lyrick Lark, and the graue whispering Doue,
The Sparrow that neglects his life for loue,
The houshold bird with the redd stomacher
Thou makst the Blackbird speede as soone,
As doth the Goldfinch, or the Halcyon
The Husband Cock lookes out and soone is spedd
And meets his wife, which brings her feather-bed.
This day more cheerfully than ever shine
This day which might inflame thy selfe old Valentine.”
— John Donne, Epithalamion Vpon Frederick Count Palatine and the Lady Elizabeth marryed on St. Valentines day
The verse “Roses are red” echoes conventions traceable as far back as Edmund Spenser’s epic The Faerie Queene (1590):
“She bath’d with roses red, and violets blew,
And all the sweetest flowres, that in the forrest grew.”
The modern cliché Valentine’s Day poem can be found in the collection of English nursery rhymes Gammer Gurton’s Garland (1784):
“The rose is red, the violet’s blue,
The honey’s sweet, and so are you.
Thou art my love and I am thine;
I drew thee to my Valentine:
The lot was cast and then I drew,
And Fortune said it shou’d be you.
Valentine’s Day customs developed in early modern England and spread throughout the English-speaking world in the 19th century. In the later 20th and early 21st centuries, these customs spread to other countries, but their effect has been more limited than those of Hallowe’en, or than aspects of Christmas, (such as Santa Claus).
Valentine’s Day is celebrated in many East Asian countries with Singaporeans, Chinese and South Koreans spending the most money on Valentine’s gifts.
In Chinese, Valentine’s Day is called lovers’ festival (simplified Chinese: 情人节; traditional Chinese: 情人節; Mandarin: Qīng Rén Jié; Hokkien: Chêng Lîn Chiat; Cantonese: Chìhng Yàhn Jit; Shanghainese Xin Yin Jiq). The “Chinese Valentine’s Day” is the Qixi Festival, celebrated on the seventh day of the seventh month of the lunar calendar. It commemorates a day on which a legendary cowherder and weaving maid are allowed to be together. In Chinese culture, there is an older observance related to lovers, called “The Night of Sevens” (Chinese: 七夕; pinyin: Qi Xi). According to the legend, the Cowherd star and the Weaver Maid star are normally separated by the Milky Way (silvery river) but are allowed to meet by crossing it on the 7th day of the 7th month of the Chinese calendar.
In recent years, celebrating White Day has also become fashionable among some young people.
In India, in antiquity, there was a tradition of adoring Kamadeva, the lord of love; exemplificated by the erotic carvings in the Khajuraho Group of Monuments and by the writing of the Kamasutra. This tradition was lost around the Middle Ages, when Kamadeva was no longer celebrated, and public displays of sexual affection became frowned upon. This repression of public affections began to loosen in the 1990s.
Valentine’s Day celebrations did not catch on in India until around 1992. It was spread due to the programs in commercial TV channels, such as MTV, dedicated radio programs, and love letter competitions, in addition to an economical liberalization that allowed the explosion of the valentine card industry. Economic liberalization also helped the Valentine card industry. The celebration has caused a sharp change on how people have been displaying their affection in public since the Middle Ages.
Valentine’s Day celebrates love and companionship. The celebrations start a week before with Rose Day when people express their love by giving roses to each other. It is followed by Propose Day when lovers pop the question. Then comes Chocolate Day followed by Teddy Day when chocolates and teddy bears are exchanged as a symbol of love. The next two days are celebrated as Hug Day and Kiss Day.