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

The colour 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.

History of Valentine's DayPhoto: Brent Hofacker/Shutterstock

Blood and Roses: The History of Valentine’s Day

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.)

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. (Make your sweetheart giggle on February 14 with these hilarious stories.)

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. (Check out the top 10 solo travel destinations for Valentine’s Day.)

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.

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:

  • The Valentine’s Day Massacre of 1929.
  • The unsolved murder of young lovers Jesse McBane and Patricia Mann, which occurred on Valentine’s Day 1971.
  • The unsolved murder of teens Nicholas Kunselman and Stephanie Hart (who were dating) on Valentine’ Day 2000.
  • The murder by Oscar Pistorius of Reeva Steenkamp on Valentine’ Day 2013.
  • The murder-suicide of an elderly couple in Alabama on Valentine’ Day 2015.

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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Originally Published on Reader's Digest