Where Valentine’s Day Comes From, Why It Works, And How To Steal Its Formula

3rd-century Roman law was clear: Christians were to be persecuted. And Saint Valentine of Rome did not agree with the law. Here’s his story and how it connects to Valentine’s Day.

Saint Valentine was a priest, serving (illegally) the persecuted Christians of Rome. The charges against him would include marrying Christians, a real no-no because married men could get out of forced military service. This was a serious offense to the empire.

As a cute aside, he was also rumored to cut hearts out of parchment paper and pass them out. It was meant to be a sign of god’s love. So before there was a day, Valentine had his own cards.*

Emperor Claudius Gothicus had Valentine captured and imprisoned for his crimes. During his sentencing, he allegedly performed a miracle on his judge’s blind child, and later gave one of the judge’s daughters a card signed, “from your Valentine.”**

In captivity, Claudius took a liking to him until Valentine tried converting him to Christianity. Claudius asked him to denounce Jesus and Valentine refused. Valentine was ultimately beaten with clubs and beheaded.***

Years later the Catholic Church would remember him as a martyr.

A few years after that, Hallmark would turn his traditions into a holiday.

In 2022, Statista expects Americans to spend roughly $24 billion, or $175 per person, on the holiday.

Knowing the history, even if it’s apocryphal, is useful for anybody who wants to make a movement (or inspire people to get things done). Valentine’s Day works today because:

  1. We know what the holiday “means” (profess your love),
  2. We participate in a ceremony (say it with chocolate, flowers, both – so long as you know the rules to follow), and
  3. We all do it (so if you don’t, you’re on the outside).

While you pass out your candy hearts today, think about these three things. The meaning, the ceremony, and the social proofing of it all.

Next time you have to get people behind a cause or a project, think of a holiday like Valentine’s Day and why it even exists.

For the Romans, they had a law, a trial, and a punishment.

For the church, they had a man, a saint, and then a martyr to teach with.

For Hallmark, they have a holiday, a ritual, and a participatory awareness to maintain.

What are you going to do with it?

*did they say “I choo-choo choose you”? Maybe. The detail is lost to time.
**on the back of the card it said “Hallmark, copyright 279 AD”
***ahh, don’t you just love a good Roman romance story?

Ps. I did write about this once before too, see “How To Keep Valentine’s Day From Just Being A Hallmark Holiday.” I think I improved upon it here, but let me know what you think.