The history of St. Valentine’s Day is uncertain. Some believe its origin lies with two martyrs of the early Christian church. Both saints were named Valentine, and both were recorded as being beheaded on February 14th, about A.D. 269, during the persecution of the Roman Emperor Claudius II.
It is said that one of these men, a priest, was executed for secretly marrying young couples in defiance of the emperor’s edict that young, single men destined for the army not marry. Over two centuries later in A.D. 496, Saint Pope Gelasius I named February 14th as St. Valentine’s Day.
There is evidence that St. Valentine’s Day was first celebrated in England in the 1400s. It’s on record that the first valentine was sent by a Frenchman named Charles, the Duke of Orleans. He was imprisoned in the Tower of London after the Battle of Agincourt in 1415, and he sent his wife an affectionate letter in rhyming verse from his prison cell.
Men often gave gifts of candy to their Valentines, but the sending of romantic poems soon became more popular. Commercial valentine cards were first manufactured in the early 1800s and were hand-painted and decorated with fine satin, feathers, ribbon or lace.
Gifts of chocolate and sweet confections presented in fancy, decorated boxes symbolized fondness, and this tradition of giving edible gifts to loved ones continues today.