The exact details of the origin of Valentine’s Day have long been a mystery, but most stories point back to at least two martyred saints named Valentine. According to the legends, the Roman Emperor Claudius II executed two men named Valentine on Feb. 14 of different years.
One story claims that Valentine was a priest in third-century Rome. Claudius II thought that single men made better soldiers, so he outlawed young men from marrying. When Valentine defied this order and kept performing marriages, Claudius had him executed.
Another story claims Valentine was killed for trying to help Christians escape Roman prisons. When he was imprisoned, he fell in love with a girl and sent her the first Valentine, a letter he signed “From your Valentine.”
Like many holidays, Valentine’s Day also has pagan roots. “Others claim that the Christian church may have decided to place St. Valentine’s feast day in the middle of February in an effort to ‘Christianize’ the pagan celebration of Lupercalia,” according to one story. “Celebrated at the ides of February, or February 15, Lupercalia was a fertility festival dedicated to Faunus, the Roman god of agriculture, as well as to the Roman founders Romulus and Remus.”
Today the holiday is celebrated in the United States, Canada, Mexico, the United Kingdom, France and Australia.
Americans have been exchanging cards since the early 18th century. Hallmark began selling Valentine’s Day cards in 1913. The company estimates more than 110 million cards are exchanged for the holiday each year.