El Día de San Valentín is the Spanish name for Valentine’s Day, the world’s most famous holiday of love. While the holiday has come to be associated with heart-shaped cards, roses and chocolates, El Día de San Valentín wasn’t always the rosy holiday we know it to be today. Read below as we retrace the origins of El Día de San Valentín back to its ancient Christian and Roman roots.
What Day is El Día de San Valentín?
El Día de San Valentín is celebrated each year on February 14th. English-speaking cultures know the holiday as “Valentine’s Day,” a day for lovers to express their devotion and appreciation for one another through acts of love and gift-giving.
The origins of El Día de San Valentín aren’t entirely clear, and there are varying legends as to who San Valentín (Saint Valentine) truly was.
The catholic church recognizes three Saints named Valentine or Valentinus and it’s believed that there are even more historical figures with the same title. All three recognized figures were martyred. So, who is the real Saint Valentine and why is he important to diverse cultures worldwide?
The most commonly held belief is that Saint Valentine was a priest who served during the third century in Rome when marriage was outlawed for young men who were thought to be of better use as soldiers. Legend has it that Saint Valentine defied the law imposed by emperor Claudius II and continued to marry young lovers in secret. When Saint Valentine was eventually found out, he was put to death, making him the original martyr for love.
Others believe that a bishop named Saint Valentine of Terni is the historical figure behind El Día de San Valentín. This theory is plausible, as he too perished at the hands of Claudius II.
According to some historians, Saint Valentine may have been two people famed for healing a child while imprisoned and being subsequently executed by decapitation. However, this theory doesn’t align with the legends of grandiose love we like to associate with the holiday.
Evidently, legends abound about precisely who the mysterious Saint Valentine was, but the running theme is that he died in the name of love. In any case, the legend of Saint Valentine holds a special place in the hearts of many lovers worldwide.
How is El Día de San Valentín Celebrated?
El Día de San Valentín is celebrated much the same as other cultures celebrate Valentine’s Day. In the United States and Western culture in general, romantic partners celebrate their love for one another by spending quality time together and exchanging gifts such as flowers, candy, and jewelry on this designated day of love.
One popular and long-standing tradition is the exchange of Valentine’s Day cards. History suggests Valentine’s greetings date back to the Middle Ages, with the first written Valentine appearing in the 15th century.
The oldest known Valentine is said to be a 1415 poem by Charles, Duke of Orleans. The story goes that he wrote the poem to his wife while imprisoned in the Tower of London. The poem is still in existence today and can be found in the British Library’s manuscript collection.
Another early example of a Valentine is that of King Henry V, who enlisted the help of writer John Lydgate to compose a Valentine letter to Catherine of Valois.
El Día de San Valentín traditions eventually spread throughout the rest of the world and today, Valentine’s Day is celebrated in Spain, Mexico, Canada, the United Kingdom, France, Australia and the United States.
In Great Britain, the holiday first took hold in the 17th century before becoming popular in the 18th century, when friends and lovers were known to exchange hand-written love letters and small gifts to show their affection for one another. There is even evidence of cards akin to today’s Hallmark valentines being printed and distributed in the early 1900s.
Today, exchanging Valentine’s cards adorned with pink and red heart shapes and images of Cupid is a popular tradition amongst young lovers, notably of high school age.
Speaking of Cupid, why is this iconic cherub so strongly associated with El Día de San Valentín? Well, Cupid is known as the Greek god of love, famous for sticking unsuspecting lovers with arrows that make them fall head over heels in love with the first person they set eyes on.
In Spanish-speaking cultures, couples celebrate El Día de San Valentín in a similar style as the rest of the world—by going out for a lavish Spanish feast or showering the apple of their eye with gifts.