Valentine's day then and now: The origin of the celebration and its gift-giving traditions

Valentine's day then and now: The origin of the celebration and its gift-giving traditions

Valentine's Day, the day of lovers and affection, has a history that spans centuries. This holiday's origin and evolution offer an intriguing glimpse into romantic customs and cultural changes. But where did this holiday come from, and how has it changed over time?

The historical origin of Valentine's Day

The origin of Valentine's Day dates back to Roman times, particularly to the Lupercalia festival, a mid-February fertility celebration. According to Christian tradition, Saint Valentine, a 3rd-century Roman priest, became the namesake of the holiday. He is famously associated with several legends, the most notable being his secret marriages of young couples in defiance of Emperor Claudius Gothicus's orders, who believed unmarried soldiers performed better in war. After Valentine's arrest and execution, he was revered by Christians as a martyr, and his memorial day was set as February 14th.

The Middle Ages and romance

In the Middle Ages, Valentine's Day increasingly became a day to celebrate romantic love. The tradition of exchanging messages and gifts between lovers on February 14th started gaining popularity in England and France from the 14th century. Geoffrey Chaucer, the famous English poet, was among the first to write about Valentine's Day as a day for birds to mate, symbolizing romantic love.

The Victorian era: the age of Valentine's cards

In the 19th century, during the Victorian era, Valentine's Day became a central element of courtship and romance. It was during this period that the exchange of handmade Valentine's cards, often decorated with lace, ribbons, and colourful illustrations, became popular. These cards frequently contained poems or romantic messages and were an important part of social etiquette.

The 20th century and commercial gift-giving

In the 20th century, Valentine's Day increasingly took on a commercial nature. The mass production of greeting cards, advancements in postal services, and the popularity of chocolates, sweets, and cut flowers made them standard elements of gift-giving. This era contributed to the commercial aspect of Valentine's Day that persists today.

The digital era and modern celebration

The digital era introduced new possibilities in celebrating Valentine's Day. Online greeting cards, emails, social media messages, and virtual gifts have become popular ways to express love. Digital communication, bridging distances, allows people to celebrate the day even when physically apart.


In summary, the story of Valentine's Day and its gift-giving traditions closely intertwines with cultural and societal changes over the centuries. From medieval secret love letters to modern digital greeting cards, the core purpose of the holiday has always been to express love and intimacy.

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