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What is Valentine’s Day, and why do we celebrate it? The history of the most romantic day of the year

The day was once conceived as part of Christianity breaking with pagain tradition but is now nearly fully secular.

PARIS, FRANCE - FEBRUARY 13: Red hearts are displayed at the entrance of the Printemps Haussmann department store on the eve of Valentine's Day on February 13, 2023 in Paris, France. Valentine's Day is known as the feast of lovers and the celebration of love and romance in many parts of the world and takes place on February 14 each year. (Photo by Chesnot/Getty Images)

Valentine’s Day is a day to express love and affection towards others, particularly romantic partners. The holiday is named after Saint Valentine, a Catholic priest who lived in the 3rd century.

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The exact origins of the holiday and how it became associated with love and romance are not clear, but it is believed that the day was initially a celebration of Saint Valentine and later evolved into a day to recognise and celebrate love in all its forms.

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A short history of Valentine’s Day

The celebration of Valentine’s Day is believed to date back to ancient Rome, where a festival called Lupercalia was held in mid-February to venerate fertility and the coming of spring. The festival involved various rituals, including the exchange of love notes which may have been the precursor to the modern practice of exchanging Valentine’s Day cards.

In the 3rd century, the Roman Empire had become a predominantly Christian state and the Church sought to replace pagan festivals with Christian holidays. To this end, the Catholic Church declared 14 February as Saint Valentine’s Day, in honor of a Christian martyr named Valentine who was believed to have been executed on that day.

Over time, Saint Valentine became associated with love and romance, and the holiday evolved into a day to celebrate romantic love. In the 14th and 15th centuries, the tradition of exchanging love notes on Valentine’s Day became more widespread, and the first Valentine’s Day cards were sent.

The holiday continued to gain popularity and by the 19th century it had become a widely recognised event, celebrated with the exchange of gifts and love notes.