A short history of Valentine’s Day for teachers

As with many holidays that have existed for millennia, the true history of Valentine's Day is a bit murky.

The main theory of Valentine's Day

While there were three known St. Valentines that the Catholic tradition, the most widely accepted version connects Valentine's Day with the Saint Valentine who served under the Roman Emperor Claudius in the third century A.D. The Emperor held that single men make much better warriors that those who have wives and children, so according to his needs, he passed a law which banned marriage for all young men.

A priest called Valentine believed this was wrong because it was against God's commands and against his ultimate law, which is love. That is why he continued to marry young couples in secrecy.

While what the priest Valentine has done might be according to God's wishes, it was undoubtedly against the Emperor's command. As soon as he discovered the betrayal, he executed Valentine.

Two centuries later, the Vatican canonised Valentine for his bravery and dedicated the February 14th to him.

Possible pagan roots of Valentine's Day

According to the religious tradition, the middle of February was chosen for Valentine’s Day celebration to commemorate the anniversary of Valentine’s death. On the other hand, there are theories that the Catholic church was guided by very practical goals when choosing the date for the St. Valentine's holiday. It might have occurred to replace a significant Roman pagan festival dedicated to the Roman god of agriculture Faunus, and to Romulus and Remus, the legendary founders of the Roman state and empire - in their honour, a Roman pagan festival called Lupercalia used to take place on February 15th.

On this date, an order of Roman pagan priests called Luperci gathered in a sacred cave where they believed Romulus and Remus were brought up by a female wolf - Lupa. Luperci would sacrifice a goat and a dog. Then they would use the strips of the goat's hide to touch Roman women, who embraced the practice because they believed it would make them more fertile. According to the legend, they would later help the locals pair up by pulling women's names from an urn and connecting them with bachelors; these pairings often resulted in marriages.

According to this theory, Lupercalia was outlawed as an "unchristian" practice in the same century that St. Valentine's Day was declared by Pope Gelasius.

February Romance

Another theory of why we celebrate Valentine's Day on this particular date is rooted in the fact that the middle of February is a beginning of the mating season for many birds in England. Of course, male birds sing during their courtship. Is there a more romantic reason to dedicate a holiday to love and romance than bird's song?

We know that Valentine greetings were popular as far as the Middle Ages. In 1415, Charles the Duke of Orleans wrote a Valentine poem to his wife while he was imprisoned after being captured in the Battle of Agincourt. That is the oldest known written valentine which was saved to this date.

Remember that the story of a holiday doesn't have to be completely clear to talk about it in class. In fact, it can be an advantage for teaching, as it can show how multi-layered the human history really is. Choose your Valentine's story and how deep you're going to explore the theories of its origins according to your student's age, but don't forget the essence of it - in all cases, it is the celebration of love. 

Looking for a low prep option this Valentine's Day? Why not check out my Valentine's Day Celebration Study? It's fun, engaging, and students just love it. 

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