There are a lot of traditions that we recognize for Valentine’s Day—like the exchange of little cards with sweet printed messages, candied hearts stamped with requests to “be mine” or “kiss me,” boxes of chocolates in various shades of reds and pinks, chubby winged cherubs shooting love arrows at unsuspecting targets, and of course, the gift of roses as romantic gestures between lovers.
But have you stopped to consider where it all comes from? Really, how did Cupid become so widely accepted? Who was Saint Valentine? And, why have roses become the flower emblematic of the holiday?
Well, we lovers of the day of love, have answers to your Valentine’s Day questions.
Who was Saint Valentine, anyway?
There are many origins stories for Saint Valentine, a Roman priest (or priests) dating back to third century, AD. But one common tale is that Saint Valentine became the ambassador of love and the namesake for the holiday by secretly marrying soldiers and their brides under the nose of Emperor Claudius II. Claudius believed that married men made poor, distracted soldiers, and thus, banned the act for the people under his rule.
Learning of Saint Valentine’s role in unlawfully aiding lovers’ unions, the Emperor sentenced Valentine to death—an order to be executed on, you guessed it, February 14. But during his brief stint in jail, in a very Hollywood-like plot twist, the priest fell in love with the jailor’s daughter, leaving her a love letter before his untimely death. The letter was supposedly signed, “from your Valentine,” a signature that would carry his legacy through the centuries (and adopted by an ancient Pagan fertility festival) before becoming the holiday we recognize today.
And Cupid? Why is a cherub/archer synonymous with Valentine’s Day?
The chubby little archer we recognize as Cupid dates as far back as 700 BCE, traced all the way to the Greek god of love, Eros. Eros’ claim to fame was an uncanny ability to make people fall in love with one another (not to mention, his immortal good looks). It wasn’t until the Romans recast Eros as a cute little angel boy around 4 BCE that he earned his bow and arrow, and until the 19th Century AD that his love-powers linked him to Saint Valentine and the holiday of romance.
Valentine’s Day roses, and their language of love.
And now for our favorite part—flowers! Gifting flowers to lovers may seem like an obvious statement today, but its origins can be traced back to the 17th Century, with King Charles II of Sweden learning the Persian custom of communicating secret messages through flowers. In this custom, different flowers represented different messages, making a bouquet so much more than a bundle of blooms, but rather, a conversation between gifter and recipient.
Loving this concept so much, King Charles II brought the tradition of “flower language” home, with roses being the ultimate signal of love, passion, and romance. This trend took hold during the Victorian era, capturing the hearts and minds of lovers all over Europe, and eventually became intertwined with Valentine’s Day around the world.
So, now that you have all the tidbits you need to shine at your Valentine’s Day trivia party or to dazzle your date with your impressive well of historical love-knowledge, we’ll leave you with this: Don’t forget to be a Saint and hit the gifting bullseye (you little Cupid), by pre-ordering roses for your love this Valentine’s day. *wink, wink*