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The history of Valentine's Day

In a few days, it’ll be Feb. 14, or as most of us know it, Valentine’s Day. Do you still remember Valentine’s Days when you were in elementary school? I remember vividly the night before when I had to sign and address Valentine’s cards for each student in my class. And as we’ve grown older, we continue to give Valentines to the special people in our lives.

Let me share some history that most are unaware of regarding how we got Valentine’s Day and why it’s celebrated on Feb. 14. The day is named after an Italian doctor named Valentine who later became a Catholic priest. Although we don’t know when he was born, we do know he was put to death for his faith on Feb. 14, 270. Following is the story of his life as told by Whitney Hopler.

Saint Valentine was a Catholic priest who had also worked as a doctor. He lived in Italy during the third century AD and served as a priest in Rome. Although historians don’t know much about Valentine’s early life, they pick up his story after he began working as a priest.

He became famous for marrying couples who were in love but couldn’t get legally married in Rome during the reign of Emperor Claudius II, who outlawed weddings because he wanted to recruit lots of men to be soldiers in his army and thought that marriage would be an obstacle to recruiting new soldiers. He also wanted to prevent his existing soldiers from getting married because he thought that marriage would distract them from their work.

When Emperor Claudius discovered that Valentine was performing weddings, he sent him to jail. Valentine used his time in jail to continue to reach out to people with the love that he said Jesus Christ gave him for others.

He befriended his jailer, Asterius, who became so impressed with Valentine’s wisdom that he asked him to help his daughter, Julia, with her lessons. Julia was blind and needed someone to read material for her to learn it. Valentine became friends with Julia through his work with her when she came to visit him in jail.

Emperor Claudius also came to like Valentine. He offered to pardon Valentine and set him free if he would renounce his Christian faith and agree to worship the Roman gods. Not only did Valentine refuse to leave his faith, he also encouraged Emperor Claudius to place his trust in Christ. Emperor Claudius was so enraged at Valentine’s response that he sentenced him to die.

Before he was killed, Valentine wrote a last note to encourage Julia to stay close to Jesus and to thank her for being his friend. He signed the note: “From your Valentine.” That note inspired other people to begin writing their own messages to loved ones each year on Feb. 14, the day Valentine was beaten, stoned, and beheaded for his faith.

Because he was willing to go to jail and eventually face death simply because he was willing to help young couples get properly married, many people remembered his loving service and began celebrating his life.

Eventually he came to be regarded by the Catholic church as a saint through whom God had worked to help people in miraculous ways. By 496, Pope Gelasius designated Feb. 14 as Valentine’s official feast day.

So that’s the story behind Valentine’s Day and why we continue to give cards 18 centuries after the kind man’s death.

 

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