Valentine’s Day dates back to Roman times

by 86th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

Editor’s Note: This article was published in a previous edition of the Kaiserslautern American and the information has been updated to reflect this year’s event.

Legend says that Valentine of Terni, a friendly priest, who married young couples in love, died Feb. 14, 269. That’s why Valentine’s Day is observed Feb. 14. In many countries all over the world, Wednesday is the day, when husbands and wives, girlfriends and boyfriends have romantic dinners, give gifts, candy, cards and flowers to show their love and affection.

The custom of giving flowers goes back to ancient Rome, where Valentine gave advice to young people, in particular regarding marriage. He did this despite Emperor Claudius’ prohibition. Claudius did not want his legionaries get – according to Christian customs – tied to wives and houses. But Valentine was looking for lovers, found them and married them. He passed out flowers to young couples that were walking by the garden of his monastery and asked the men to stay at home and not to go out into battle.


One day Em­peror Claudius wanted to meet Valentine to find out about his wisdom. The emperor requested Valentine to believe in Roman gods again. Then they would be friends. But the priest told him that he never would ask him to do so if he knew about the glory of God and his son Christ.

During his visit with Claudius, a council member asked Valentine what he thought of the Roman gods. Valentine answered that they are demons. The council immediately requested the blasphemer’s death. During a delay Valentine asked for, he impressed the emperor with the truth of Christian belief. Claudius was deeply touched, but when Rome’s governor said Valentine was a magician, Claudius feared a revolt by his people and passed the priest on to Asterius, a judge, to decide on his fate. While standing in front of the judge, Valentine performed a miracle. He made the judge’s blind daughter see again by praying and laying on of hands. Asterius and his family got baptized after that. But since their new Christian belief was counter to Roman religion, they were tortured and killed. Rome’s governor also decided to torture Valentine and behead him Feb. 14, 269.

Before he was killed, many young people visited him in jail. Also, one jail guard’s daughter came to see him several times. She helped him to keep his spirits up and told him that he did the right thing by ignoring the emperor and going ahead with the secret messages. On the day he was to die, he left a note thanking the girl for her friendship and loyalty. He signed it with “Love from your Valentine.” That might have started the custom of exchanging love messages Feb. 14.

Valentine cards have a long tradition. Legend says that the Duke of Orleans, while in prison in the tower of London in 1415, kept sending love letters to his spouse, and not only on Feb. 14. Ever since, he is looked at as the founder of Valentine’s. In the 17th century, author Samuel Pepys from London, revived this tradition of writing a love letter to his wife Feb. 14. She was so thrilled about it and in turn gave him flowers. The British noble society took over the tradition of giving flowers and sending love notes soon after, and it was spread through England and France.

In the 18th century, people in love started to send romantic greeting cards. In Germany, recognition of Valentine’s Day started in the 1950’s when American Soldiers brought the British tradition to Germany.