Zachary, age 7, asked me how Valentine’s Day started. I told him we could research that at the library, but later that night I got curious and went online. I found conflicting information, so I decided to put together a Cosmic Education story to tell him the tale of the origins of Valentine’s day. I shared it with him and it inspired us to make care packages for the people experiencing homelessness in our area. I hope it can inspire acts of kindness, or at least get some conversations started, among the children in your life.
Note: I don’t follow any religion, and I’ve tried to make the story as secular as possible so it can be used widely. I use the lower-case “g” in all instances of the word “god”, but if that bothers you, feel free to copy/paste and edit at will. This story is meant to be told orally, as are all Cosmic Education stories, so you can adapt it to fit your audience and/or beliefs.
The Story of the Origin of Valentine’s Day
Have you ever wondered where people got the idea to celebrate Valentine’s day? Historians don’t have much information to go on, so I’m going to tell you one of their theories. For this story, we’re going to go back in time, almost 2,000 years ago, to a country in Europe called Italy.
Italy was the home of the Ancient Romans. The Roman Empire was very powerful, with a large army and a series of emperors that controlled land from Northern Africa to Western Asia and a large part of Europe. The Ancient Romans believed in many gods. You’ve probably heard of Saturn, Jupiter and Neptune… Before they were the names of planets, they were just three of the hundreds of gods the Romans worshipped! Keeping the gods happy was of utmost importance to the Ancient Romans, and the Emperor would throw in jail anyone who didn’t believe in these gods or who refused to make sacrifices to them.
One of the groups of people at risk of being jailed were the Christians. This small group believed in only one god – a god very different from the Roman gods – and felt their mission in life was to help people who were poor, sick or hurt. After receiving help from the Christians, these people would often convert – they’d stop believing in the Roman gods and start worshipping the Christian god. As you can imagine, this made the Roman Emperor very, very angry!
One of these Christians was a priest named Valentinus. He helped the poor and the sick, and many of those he helped were so grateful that they decided to convert. When the Emperor heard what Valentinus was doing, he locked him in jail to stop him from helping and converting any more Romans to Christianity. However, Valentinus did not forget about those he’d helped. He wrote letters to them from jail and signed them “From your Valentinus.”
Valentinus died in jail on February 14th, which was around the time of the Ancient Roman feast of Lupercalia. This rowdy party celebrated love, and when the Christians became more powerful than the Romans, they replaced this raucous festival with a day to remember the work of St. Valentinus. And thus, Valentine’s day was born! You can research how the holiday evolved to include chocolates and love poems; it’s quite an interesting story that will take you to Medieval England.
I look forward to hearing what you discover. But for now, when we celebrate Valentine’s day, let’s take a moment to think about how we – like Valentinus – can make the world a better place by helping those who are poor, sick or hurt. Because that’s the true spirit of Valentine’s day!