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A brief history of Valentine's Day

The history of this holiday goes back further than you think.

By Kristin Wong Feb 11, 2013 3:36PM

Couples have been cozying up on Valentine's Day for centuries. And probably for just as long, singles have been scoffing at the holiday.

But just where and when did Valentine's Day start? It may go back further than you think. We've put together a brief history of the holiday for the amorous and curious alike.

Photo: History of Valentine's Day / Photo: History of Valentine's Day / George Doyle/Getty ImagesMore on MSN Living: Best Valentine's Day gifts on Pinterest

Ancient Rome: Lupercalia was a Roman fertility festival that fell between Feb. 13 and Feb. 15. Over the centuries, writers have attributed the roots of Valentine's Day to this holiday, but there is no actual evidence of a link. 

Around 200 AD: A bishop and priest, both named Valentine, are martyred. Their sainthood is honored on Feb.14, although it's still unknown which of the St. Valentines the modern holiday is named after.

496 AD: Pope Gelasius declares Feb. 14 to be St. Valentine's Day. Gelasius also abolishes Lupercalia in Rome. It's official — Valentine's Day becomes a church sanctioned holiday.

More on MSN Living: 10 tips for a sexy and romantic Valentine's Day

1382 AD: The first documented association between Valentine's Day and romance is penned. In Parlement of Foules, Geoffrey Chaucer wrote:

"For this was on seynt Volantynys day
Whan euery bryd comyth there to chese his make."

In case you don't speak fourteenth century prose: "For this was on Saint Valentine's Day, when every bird cometh there to choose his mate."

1415 AD: The oldest known Valentine in existence is penned by Charles, Duke of Orleans. Following his capture at the Battle of Agincourt, the Duke was held in the Tower of London where he wrote a note to his wife. Translated, it read, "I am already sick with love, my very gentle Valentine."

She probably thought it was sweet. But we're betting her single best friend had some eye-rolling going on.

1600 AD: Shakespeare mentions Valentine's Day in Hamlet:

"To-morrow is Saint Valentine's day,
All in the morning betime,
And I a maid at your window,
To be your Valentine."

Pretty romantic—until you get to the incestuous parts.

1797: A British writer issues a publication with examples of romantic verses for couples to exchange on Valentine's Day. The next century brings reduced postal rates, offering an inexpensive opportunity to exchange cards. Paper valentines become hugely popular in England.

1847: The first mass-produced valentines are sold in the United States. Esther Howland makes a business out of assembling valentines after she receives an English one from a friend of her father's.

1950s: In addition to cards, candy is now considered an appropriate Valentine's Day gift.

1980s: The diamond industry begins promoting bling as an awesomely expensive Valentine's Day present. People max out credit cards in the name of love.

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Photo: George Doyle/Getty Images


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