The Evolution Of Valentine’s Day Traditions

Nmesoma Okwudili


February 17, 2024

Valentine’s Day, which falls on February 14th, is a beloved holiday honouring romance, love, and affection. But the origins of this festival can be found in ancient Rome, when mid-February marked the onset of the bird breeding season. The intriguing connection between love and this seasonal aspect peaked during Lupercalia celebrations, which occurred from February 13 to February 15.

During Lupercalia, a distinctive custom was observed in which young men selected young women’s names from a jar. This drawing paired the people for the duration of the celebration, creating relationships that occasionally resulted in marriages. This antiquated custom provides insight into the early history of Valentine’s Day by implying that it was inspired by love and the union of couples at a season typically linked to fertility and regeneration in the natural world.

Valentine’s Day changed and developed into the holiday we know today throughout the course of centuries. The once-associated Lupercalia behaviors disappeared, replaced by new traditions that placed an emphasis on romantic gift-giving, the exchanging of tokens of affection, and sincere declarations of love. From its origins as an ancient fertility festival, the celebration evolved into a more sophisticated and romantic event.


In order to commemorate one or more Valentine-named Christian martyrs, Pope Gelasius I replaced Lupercalia with St. Valentine’s Day in the fifth century, Christianizing the occasion. Nonetheless, Valentine’s Day’s romantic undertones persisted, and by the Middle Ages, it became associated with courtly love and sentimental gestures.

Charles, Duke of Orleans, penned one of the earliest Valentine’s Day cards to his wife while imprisoned in the Tower of London in 1415. The poem, composed in French, expressed his love and longing, establishing the custom of exchanging tokens of affection on Valentine’s Day.

England witnessed a surge in popularity during the 18th century for the tradition of sending handwritten cards and love notes. Termed “valentines,” these cards featured romantic designs, ribbons, and embroidery, and frequently included heartfelt poetry. The Industrial boom reduced expenses for valentines produced on a large scale, which helped them gain popularity.

The Victorian era saw a rise in elaborate Valentine’s Day gifts and gestures, including carefully crafted cards, flowers, chocolates, and jewelry. Additionally, the custom of mailing anonymous Valentines rose took  popularity at this period, enabling bashful admirers to communicate their emotions without worrying about being rejected.

In the middle of the 1800s, the “Mother of the American Valentine,” Esther Howland started crafting elaborate Valentine’s Day cards in the United States. Her masterpieces, adorned with ribbons, lace, and vibrant drawings, gained immense popularity and contributed to the widespread exchange of Valentine’s Day cards nationwide.

Valentine’s Day underwent further changes in the 20th century with the addition of new customs and traditions. Romantic dinners and excursions also became customary, as did the giving and receiving of presents like jewellery, flowers, and chocolates. The celebration has also become more commercialized in recent years, with stores selling a wide range of products and promotions with Valentine’s Day themes.

This observance is prevalent in numerous countries, each with unique traditions and customs. Even though romance and love always stay at the core of the holiday, modern celebrations often include acts of kindness towards friends, family, and loved ones of all kinds.

In recent times, Valentine’s Day has undergone significant evolution from its ancient roots as a pagan fertility festival to its current form as a celebration of love and affection. Valentine’s Day has evolved over the years, yet its fundamental meaning—expressing love, gratitude, and affection to those who are especially dear to us—has remained unchanged.


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