The Surprisingly Dark History of Valentine’s Day You Never Knew

The color red is associated with Valentine's Day because it's scientifically linked to passion and sexuality. But given what we now know of Valentine's Day's sinister history, we're wondering if the association doesn't have more to do with blood spatter...

Ah, Valentine’s Day. Such a glorious excuse to dwell on love and romance. But ironically, this day of roses, chocolates, and heart-shaped cards has a dark history. (Find out more Valentine’s Day facts that will truly surprise you.)

How Valentine’s Day got its name

Valentine’s Day actually marks the date of the execution of St. Valentine by the Roman emperor Claudius II during the third century AD. And what was St. Valentine’s crime? The most popular theory holds that he’d been officiating at the weddings of soldiers, despite that marriage had been outlawed for them. Apparently, the emperor felt that love and romance made for weaker soldiers. Here are a few Valentine’s Day traditions from around the world.

Why February 14 became Valentine’s Day

Long before St. Valentine’s execution, February 14 had come to be associated with fertility—and blood. Between February 13 and 15, Romans celebrated the feast of Lupercalia by sacrificing a goat and a dog and then whipping naked women with the hides, all in the interest of making the women more fertile. In the fifth century AD, Pope Gelasius I outlawed Lupercalia and officially declared February 14 to be the feast of St. Valentine, or Valentine’s Day.

Valentine’s Day as a double-edged sword throughout history

As the years went on, Valentine’s Day may have become conflated with the Norman celebration of “Galatin’s Day,” according to NPR (Galatin referred to a “lover of women”). As such, by the time Geoffrey Chaucer wrote Parliament of Fowls, which referred to St. Valentine’s Day as the day when birds found their mates (late 14th century), St. Valentine’s Day had already entered the public consciousness as a day associated with love. By the late 16th century, William Shakespeare used a reference to St. Valentine’s Day to foreshadow Ophelia’s suicide in Hamlet.

Valentine’s Day in the modern day: blood and roses

Although Valentine’s Day continues to be associated with hearts and flowers, in the last century, it has also continued to be associated with blood spatter and murder. A few notable bloody Valentine’s Days include:

But hey, we don’t want to kill the mood—so please, instead of thinking about Valentine’s Day’s surprisingly dark history, consider these wonderful Valentine’s Day gifts you can get for your boo, or what you can do for yourself on Valentine’s Day if you’re single.

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Lauren Cahn
Lauren Cahn is a New York-based writer whose work has appeared regularly on Reader's Digest, The Huffington Post, and a variety of other publications since 2008. She covers life and style, popular culture, law, religion, health, fitness, yoga, entertaining and entertainment. Lauren is also an author of crime fiction; her first full-length manuscript, The Trust Game, was short-listed for the 2017 CLUE Award for emerging talent in the genre of suspense fiction.