The name Valentine’s Day was born from St. Valentine… a 5th century Roman priest who was said to have married young couples in secret during a time when young soldiers (males) were forbidden by the Emperor Claudius III to marry, lest they become distracted and unable to perform their soldierly duties as pledged to the Roman Empire.
Valentine’s Day was later decreed a holiday by the church, possibly to Christianize the pagan festival of Lupercalia. As legend has it, this ancient, winter-time fertility festival commenced with goat and dog sacrifices. One of the highlights of the fertility festival involved slapping blood-soaked strips of the goat hide against young ladies and farmers’ fields in the hope of increasing fertility in both. (Clearly, Valentine’s Day has come a long way, wouldn’t you say?)
The famed Lupercalia festival ended with a grab-bag match-making game. Young, unmarried townsmen would get to select from an urn full of papers with young single ladies’ names written on them. Whichever maiden’s name the man ended up with would be his sweetheart for the next year. Marriages often became of these couplings, as the story tells it.
It is also possible that Romans and French of the Middle Ages named February as the time to acknowledge bird mating season which begins during the first two weeks of this month.
The first Valentine’s Day sentiments were expressed using pen and paper during the 1400s. In the mid-1800s it became expected that one would receive a handmade or hand-written Valentine and a small, token gift from one’s sweetheart. Later, the advent of the printing press gave way to pre-printed Valentines that became popular in the early 1900s.