The history of Valentine’s Day and why we celebrate it

Couple with bouquet of flowers

Jessica Taylor Yates

Posted February 08, 2023

The origins of the 'day of love' may not have stem from cards, candy, flowers, or even star-crossed lovers. But whether you think Valentine’s Day is a gimmick or a day to adore l’amour, this is why we celebrate on February 14.

The universal day of love, known as Valentine’s Day, has become synonymous with romance, flowers and gifts. Whether you see it as the commercialisation of romance at its finest, or a celebration from the bow of Cupid himself, there’s no doubting that Valentine’s Day is big business.

In Australia alone, over $415 million was estimated to have been spent on the day of love last year, with flowers, food, drink, and jewellery as the main objects of our affection. The day is also rife with romance, from date nights under starry skies to personalised cards and gifts sent in the name of love around the world.

While the origins of Valentine's Day are mixed, it has gone on to being associated with love and romance, which was later shown through various love languages, such as the giving of gifts or words of affirmation.

It can also be fun; a way to reconnect with a partner or loved one, whether it’s trying out a new restaurant, going star-gazing, or simply enjoying each other’s company with a great meal and dessert at home.

But just how did February 14 come to be known as the day of love?

Why do we celebrate Valentine’s Day?

In modern times, Valentine’s Day, or Saint Valentine’s Day, is commemorated on February 14 as a celebration of love; typically for one’s significant other, but can also be for family and friends.

This love may be expressed through cards, gifts, flowers, chocolate, romantic dates, or other forms of affection.

It is not a public holiday, and anyone is able to get involved if they wish, from going to see the latest romantic movie to planning a lovers’ getaway.

What are the origins of Valentine’s Day?

Results are somewhat conflicting on when and how Valentine’s Day truly began.

Some historians trace it back to the Pagan celebration of Lupercalia, a ritual promoting fertility and matchmaking.

Others believe it relates to the ancient Romans, who executed two men named Valentine on February 14 at different times during the third century.

As legend has it, one of these Valentines was a priest under Emperor Claudius II, who had banned Christian marriage, or in other historical accounts, had banned soldiers from getting married to their lovers. Saint Valentine would still marry the lovers in secret, for which he was later jailed.

And as for sending cards from ‘Your Valentine?’ The legend continues that the well-known sign-off comes from the man himself, who allegedly used it in a love message to his blind jailer’s daughter, who he is said to have cured.

Rome moved away from paganism toward the end of the fifth century some 200 years later. Lupercalia was replaced with a celebratory feast on February 14 for martyred saints named Valentine, with the secret romantic becoming known as the patron saint of love.

By the year 1375, around the time King Richard II was set to marry Anne of Bohemia, an author named Geoffrey Chaucer wrote a poem associating Saint Valentine with love. He forever became known as the man who ‘popularised’ the idea that February 14 was a day for lovers and romance.

Towards the end of the 15th century, a ‘Valentine’ was a colloquialism used to refer to a lover in letters, writings, and song, and by the 19th century, the Valentine’s Day card we have all seen in various forms went into mass production. 


Old couple celebrating Valentine's Day

Cards and gifts are some of the ways that people show love on Valentine's Day. Image: Getty. 


Why do we give flowers on Valentine’s Day?

Nothing spells romance like flowers, particularly those that have become synonymous with love, such as the long-stemmed red rose.

In floriography, roses represent Aphrodite, the Greek Goddess of Love, and act as a symbol of romance and desire. Giving these to others is a way of showing this affection, particularly on Valentine’s Day – not to mention their pure beauty.

They have remained a popular way to show love across the country, with Australians spending an estimated $110 million on flora in the last year alone, with the two most popular sales days for florists falling on Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day.

Find out how to grow your own roses for a garden blooming with passion year-round.

Why do people give cards, chocolate and gifts on Valentine’s Day?

While the background on Valentine cards is also mixed – whether it was inspired by Saint Valentine himself, the poet Geoffrey Chaucer, or a prisoner writing a ‘Farewell To Love’ poem to his wife from the Tower of London, cards are still big business - with an estimated one billion cards being sent around the world to celebrate February 14 last year alone.  

As for chocolate, as well as being delicious (so good we’ve got a chocolate lover’s guide just for it), its association with romance can be associated with the Aztecs, who believed making it into a drink would arouse passion, while the Spanish popularised it as an aphrodisiac in the 17th century.

The idea of gifts was popularised in the 21st century, with modern traditions like going on unique dates or buying personalised gifts replacing, or going alongside, the classic flowers and chocolates. 


writing a Valentine card

Getting crafty is a fun and unique way to send a message to the one you love. Image: Getty. 


Is Valentine’s Day celebrated the same way around the world?

While February 14 is a universal date, Valentine’s Day has various meanings and ways of celebrating love across the globe.

In Finland, for example, Valentine’s Day is a celebration of love and friendship, where cards and gifts are given to great mates. This theme is also popular in Estonia, where friendships are at the core of the festivities.

In Denmark, you may receive a poem or letter from a secret admirer, written on a paper snowflake. If you guess who sent it, the admirer owes you a chocolate Easter egg later in the year!

In South Korea, February 14 is a day to celebrate men – but don’t worry, women get their own special day to be pampered come March 14.

In countries like Ghana, Germany and Japan, chocolate plays a big role, while in the Philippines, it’s a huge day for marriage, with mass weddings performed around the country.

Here in Australia, it’s also the most popular day outside of weekends and public holidays to get married, with over 800 couples saying ‘I Do’ in 2022 on the infamous Day of Love.

What is Galentine’s Day?

A fun and contemporary spin-off from Valentine’s Day, ‘Galentine’s Day’ was popularised in the TV show Parks and Recreation, where female protagonist Leslie Knope spends February 13 celebrating the love for her friends, or ‘galentines.’

It has since taken off in the real world as a day to head out, give gifts, and let your friends know how much you love them.


At a food truck dinner with friends

Galentine's Day has taken off in recent years, as a way to celebrate with friends the day before Valentine's Day. Image: Getty. 


What are some fun Valentine’s Day ideas?

February 14 means different things to different people. If you’re inclined to celebrate Valentine’s Day with some light-hearted fun, you could:

Planning a date for your Valentine?
RACV Members save on a range of experiences