From Wikimedia Commons

I’d heard that greeting card companies invented Valentine’s Day as a way to sell cards, and well, I didn’t believe it. Most of our holidays have some pretty interesting roots, so I took it upon myself to ask The Oracle (i.e. Google) and see what wisdom she had for me.

The Name

According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, there were three martyrs named Valentine, two of whom died in the 3rd century (maybe) and one of whom died in Africa at an unknown date. None of them seem to have anything to do with love. But this is definitely where we get the name from.

The Date Debate

Though there are many debates as to why mid-February was chosen (some claiming it has to do with when one of those Valentines was buried), mid-February also “happens” to be the date for the ancient Roman Lupercalia, a fertility festival that was celebrated on the Ides of February (Feb 15). This festival, according to… somebody at the University of Chicago (there’s like 3 names on the site, and I’m not sure who actually wrote the article)… involved sacrificing goats and puppies in front of a cave after which two virile young men (called the Luperci) approached the altar, painted each other’s foreheads with the sacrificial blood, wiped it off with milk, and then had to start laughing (which I’m guessing wasn’t hard, provided the sacrificing puppies didn’t get you down too much). Then everybody ate and got really drunk, and the Luperci ran through town dressed in goat skins and spanked people (particularly women who wanted to get pregnant) with mini-whips made of more goat-skin.

Now that’s a Valentine’s Day of champions – two drunken, nubile men running around town in loincloths spanking women. Say what you will about pagan Rome, they knew how to throw a party. 🙂

From Goat Thongs to Sweet Nothings

A Catholic legend (according to explains why we send cards on Valentine’s Day. It claims that one of those martyred Valentines fell in love with his jailer’s daughter while he was in prison (some say for marrying couples against the Emperor’s orders). Before he was executed, he left a note for her signed, “From your Valentine.” From what I can tell, this legend sprung up waaaay after all the Valentines were long dead, but it is still a sweet story.

During the Middle Ages, Chaucer made a reference to Valentine’s Day as a day for love in one of his poems, making the first known connection between love and V-Day, when he wrote:

For this was on Saint Valentine’s Day
When every bird cometh there to choose his mate.

Though why birds would be choosing their mates in February is anybody’s guess (and, according to, he in fact wrote this poem for the engagement of two 15 year old royals, an agreement that was arranged on May 2, 1381 – nowhere near our current February 14th date)

A couple centuries later, Shakespeare included a reference to Valentine’s Day in Hamlet during one of Ophelia’s rants. It’s this part of the play where we find out a lot of her crazy likely comes from Hamlet rejecting her after their affair turned up the heat past the Medieval *ahem* point of no return.

To-morrow is Saint Valentine’s day,
All in the morning betime,
And I a maid at your window,
To be your Valentine.
Then up he rose, and donn’d his clothes,
And dupp’d the chamber-door;
Let in the maid, that out a maid
Never departed more.

According to, exchanging handmade cards was common in England as early as the beginning of the 17th Century, and Americans have been exchanging cards and gifts since before we were a country. Considering that Christmas was not a heavily celebrated holiday here until the 1800s * that makes Valentine’s one of America’s oldest popular holidays! Definitely not an event created by a card company!

In conclusion…

No matter which traditional Valentine’s celebration you choose – cards and chocolates, deflowering virgins, marrying off teenagers, or a good old fashioned spanking (and I do mean old fashioned) – The Pagan Princesses hope you have a good one!

* …when it was popularized by Washington Irving’s The Sketchbook of Geoffrey Crayon, gent and Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. When the Puritans arrived in the New World, Christmas was a very contentious celebration; many Protestants associated it religiously with Catholicism and its abundance of pagan traditions and politically with the European aristocracy and their extravagance, something America was trying to get away from. It didn’t become a federal holiday until Ulysses S. Grant signed it into law (along with New Years and the Fourth of July) in 1870.