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Valentine's Day: The Real Truth Behind the Hearts and Candy

"There is only one happiness in this life, to love and be loved." –George Read

Kristen Fuller
Source: Kristen Fuller

Single’s Awareness Day, Bikini Wax Day, Clichéd Proposal Day, Raised Expectations Day, These Flowers Are Wilted Day … oh wait, you mean Valentine’s Day? February is the month of love (and, more importantly, the annual celebration of achievements by African Americans, otherwise known as Black History Month).

Ironically, the history of Valentine’s Day isn’t exactly romantic. In fact, this lovesick holiday has some very dark and twisted history. Although history books have yet to pinpoint the actual origin of this Hallmark love holiday, the Romans and Shakespeare had quite a lot to do with this day before Hallmark came along.

The history of Valentine's Day

  • Roman Emperor Claudius II executed two men; both named Valentine, on Feb. 14 of different years in the 3rd century A.D. and the Catholic Church honored their death with the celebration of St. Valentine’s Day.
  • From Feb. 13-15, the Romans celebrated the feast of Lupercalia, an annual festival in the month of February that was celebrated to avert evil spirits and purify the city, releasing health and fertility. The men sacrificed a goat and a dog, and then whipped women with the hides of the animals they had just slain.
  • "The priests would sacrifice a goat, for fertility, and a dog, for purification. They would then strip the goat’s hide into strips, dip them into the sacrificial blood and take to the streets, gently slapping both women and crop fields with the goat hide. Far from being fearful, Roman women welcomed the touch of the hides because it was believed to make them more fertile in the coming year. Later in the day, according to legend, all the young women in the city would place their names in a big urn. The city’s bachelors would each choose a name and become paired for the year with his chosen woman. These matches often ended in marriage."
  • Later, Roman Pope Gelasius I mixed things up in the 5th century by combining St. Valentine's Day with Lupercalia to expel the pagan rituals.
  • As time went on, famous writers and poets made this dark holiday a bit sweeter by romanticizing it in their work, resulting in the creation of handmade paper cards for the special day during the Middle Ages.
  • The Industrial Revolution in the 19th century, combined with the popularity of this love holiday in the Western world, began the process of factory-made cards.
  • In 1913, Hallmark Cards of Kansas City, Mo., began mass producing valentines.
  • Today, Valentine’s Day brings in approximately $18 billion dollars per year in sales.
Source: Kristen Fuller
Lots of "Storge" love going on here between my mom, brother and I. San Diego, California circa 1988.
Source: Kristen Fuller

Why we love the Greeks

The Romans may have invented Valentine’s Day but the Greeks are famous for conceiving seven different types of love that were discovered on the basis of wisdom and self-understanding. The love you have for your children or parents is much different than the love you have for your significant other and the same holds true for the love you have for yourself compared to the love you share with your friends. This does not mean that one type of love is better than the other. It simply means that the word “love” holds many different meanings.

  • Eros, which is named after the Greek god of love and fertility, represents the idea of sexual passion and desire. It is centered on the selfish aspects of love, that is, personal infatuation and physical pleasure. Think about “love at first sight” or a one-night stand.
  • Philia, or friendship (platonic) love, is love without physical attraction. The ancient Greeks valued philia far above eros because it was considered a love between equals.
  • Storge is a natural form of affection that is characterized by kinship and familiarity. This type of love is shared between parents and their children or among childhood friends that is later shared as adults.
  • Ludus is considered as a playful type of love, according to the Greeks. Ludus is that feeling we have when we experience the early stages of falling in love with someone such as the fluttering heart, flirting, teasing, and feelings of euphoria.
  • Mania, or obsessive love, is a type of love that leads a partner into a type of madness and obsessiveness. It occurs when there is an imbalance between eros and ludus.
  • Pragma, or enduring love, is the love that we all strive for in romantic relationships and close friendships. It is characterized as a love that has aged, matured and developed over time. It is beyond the physical, it has surpassed the casual, and it is a distinctive harmony that has formed over time, a type of love that is not easily found.
  • Philautia, or self-love, is one of the most important forms of love, according to both Greek and Buddhist philosophy. In order to care for and truly love others, we must first learn to care for and love ourselves. Philautia differs drastically from the unhealthy vanity and self-obsession that is focused on personal fame, otherwise known as Narcissism.
  • Agape is a spiritual or self-less love that is considered by the Greeks as the highest and most radical type of love. It is an unconditional love, bigger than we can imagine, a boundless compassion, an infinite empathy, the purest form of love that is free from desires and expectations, and loves regardless of the flaws and shortcomings of others.

What type of love do you share?

Fun fact: In the 5th century, the Normans, inhabitant of Normandy, France, celebrated Galatin's Day. Galatin meant "lover of women." This was likely confused with St. Valentine's Day at some point, in part because they sound alike and is why many females often commonly refer to February 14 as “Galentine’s Day."


Flaubert G (1856): Madame Bovary. Trans. Alan Russell.

Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethic X.

Plato, Lysis.