The history of Valentine’s Day: origins and traditions
From the Romans to modern romance, how Valentine’s Day has been witnessed throughout time and history.

Infatuation, romance, and dread. Love is in the air and Valentine’s Day is nearing. For some of us who are cuffed, this is exciting, especially when it’s your first Valentine’s Day together. For the rest of us who are single, it’s looking bleak. If you’re “lucky,” you might have a date with a midterm and a valid excuse to not worry about the day. Otherwise, it’s a night filled with loneliness and cheesy rom-coms. 

How did the popular day of love and Cupid striking our hearts come to be? 

Back to the Roots

The origins of Valentine’s Day are mysterious and unclear. 

Some believe that Valentine’s originated from Lupercalia, a Pagan festival held annually in February. Pagans would sacrifice a goat and dog during the festival in honour of Faunus, the Roman god of agriculture, to be blessed with fertility and purification. The hide of the goat would be stripped and dipped into sacrificial blood and then slapped gently onto women and crops. As disgusting as this might sound, it was welcomed by the women at the time, as they believed that the touch of the blood and goat hide would increase their fertility for the year. The festival would also include the pairing of women and men by a drawing of names from an urn, eventually leading to marriage. 

There still exists a similar tradition (without the goat and sacrificial blood) seen in TV shows and movies. In an episode of Gilmore Girls, the women in the town put together their own lunch baskets for an auction. The baskets and the opportunity to have lunch with them are then auctioned off and the money is put toward a charitable cause for the town. The person who wins the auction would land an opportunity for a lunch date with the person that made the basket.

The other possible origin of Valentine’s Day stems from the martyr of St. Valentine. However, the Catholic Church recognizes three different individuals with the St. Valentine name. 

One was a priest who held secret marriages between young lovers as the emperor of the time decreed that young men should defend their nation and people, so marriages among young couples were prohibited. The priest was condemned by the emperor and sentenced to death. 

Another St. Valentine was a bishop who was sentenced to death by the same emperor. It should be no surprise that this emperor seems to have no record of a wife or other lover. 

One of the two St. Valentines was imprisoned and fell in love with the jailer’s daughter. He wrote letters to her and in one of the last letters he sent her, he ended it with, “From your Valentine.” A sweet ending to love letters that is still used today. 

Valentine’s Day, Today

Valentine’s Day is still a day of romance, love, and infatuation. There is no cookie-cutter recipe for a successful Valentine’s and everyone has their own spin to their celebrations. However, it is still customary to buy your Valentine something to commemorate the special day between the two of you.  

A newer trend emerging is spending Valentine’s Day alone or with a friend. While the day might have roots in romance, many forms of love exist outside of romance that should still be celebrated. In Toronto, there are markets and different events that you can go to alone or with friends. The University of Toronto Mississauga Student Union (UTMSU) is also hosting and collaborating on different events for Valentine’s Day. Some events include their XOXO Giveaway (held in the Student Centre) and Dirty Bingo Night (also held in the Student Centre). Check out the UTMSU’s Instagram page for more information on these events and other events they have planned for Valentine’s Day!

For other events in Mississauga and Toronto, look up Valentine Ideas on TikTok. There are always free and affordable events happening in town. These events include date ideas for you and your partner, friends, or just yourself. 

Trends This Valentine’s Day

As the perception of Valentine’s Day changes, so too does the way it is celebrated. One factor behind the current popularity of Valentine’s Day could be that individuals are more inclined to put their work first. A survey in 2023 asked more than 1,000 people if they would choose work over a relationship, and 75 per cent of individuals said they would. Considering the climate of the current economy, this is not surprising. As university students, instead of feeling romantic and infatuated with our partners, we are overwhelmed with the stress of our midterms. It can be painful having to balance everything, and it leads to the question of whether we should celebrate Valentine’s Day or not. But regardless of the popularity of this holiday, there will always be a young couple being overly affectionate in your peripheral vision that you cannot escape on February 14. 


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