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Unraveling Valentine's True Universal Story

Written by Contributing Author, Charles Wekesa

By Charles Wekesa

Valentine’s day is believed to have originated from a combination of ancient Roman and Christian traditions. There is a close association with an old Roman festival called Lupercalia, commemorated from February 13th to 15th.

Unraveling Valentine’s True Universal Story

Observed universally every 14th of February each year, Valentine’s Day is affirmed as a day to celebrate romance and affection. Even though this day is recognized widely, the history and the true origins of this day remain shrouded in mystery, instigating considerable speculation. While many link it to the western traditions of romantic love, it varies significantly in form of celebration and meaning in different cultures. In this article, the real origins of Valentine’s Day are uncovered, and the varying beliefs surrounding it are explored. This includes highlighting the contrast between African and Western perspectives in its celebration. In addition to that, the common myth that Valentine’s Day is exclusively tied to Christian traditions will be dispelled.

Unearthing the Origins of Valentine’s Day

Valentine’s day is believed to have originated from a combination of ancient Roman and Christian traditions. There is a close association with an old Roman festival called Lupercalia, commemorated from February 13th to 15th. During this festival, there would be a random draw for men and women where they would be paired for the duration of the celebration, often resulting in marriage. This also had a very dark side which included animal sacrifices.

As Christianity grew in Rome, there were collective endeavors to reframe this pagan feast into a Christian holiday. One story line states that a Catholic priest called Saint Valentine defied Emperor Claudius II’s belief that single men made better soldiers; therefore, the Emperor forbid them to marry.   Valentine went ahead to clandestinely perform secret marriages for young lovers earning celebration for his actions. The rebellious actions and eventual martyrdom of Saint Valentine caused him to become a romantic figure resulting in his feast day being associated with expressions of love.

Traditions and Festivities in Africa

In Africa, Valentine’s Day is uniquely distinct from the US in that it is often viewed as a day for young, single individuals to meet and demonstrate affection to the ones they love. In many African countries, celebration of Valentine’s Day has been adopted, integrating it with their unique cultural practices and traditions. Customarily, young single men should present gifts to women they cherish and are encouraged to seize the opportunity to articulate their emotions.

This deviates from the Western world perception, where Valentine’s Day is mainly centered on committed relationships, particularly among spouses. In Western societies, Valentine’s Day holds significant commercial value, and highlights romantic affection. Marital partners exchange presents such as flowers, jewelry and chocolates and commonly indulge in a romantic dinner. There is also the giving of candies and greeting cards among school-aged children, particularly from students to teachers. 

Four Additional Facts about Valentine’s Day


1)      Commercialization by Companies: In the 19th century, companies like Cadbury began producing chocolates in heart-shaped boxes for Valentine’s Day, contributing to the commercialization of the holiday. This helped solidify the connection between Valentine’s Day and gift-giving.

2)      Oldest Known Valentine: The oldest known Valentine’s Day message is a poem written in 1415 by Charles, Duke of Orleans, to his wife while he was imprisoned in the Tower of London. This historical fact highlights the long-standing tradition of penning romantic notes for this occasion.

3)      Vinegar Valentines: During the Victorian era, there was a practice of sending ‘vinegar valentines’ – cards that contained insulting messages. These were sent anonymously and often used to reject unwanted suitors or to mock the holiday itself.

4)      Cupid’s Transformation and Cultural Significance: Cupid, often associated with Valentine’s Day, evolved from the Greek god Eros, a symbol of love and desire.

While the heart shape has become the universal symbol of love, Valentine’s Day is not celebrated uniformly across the globe. In some countries, it’s met with restrictions due to cultural or religious beliefs, and in others, it has been adapted to fit local traditions and customs.

Valentine’s Day: Beyond Christian Affiliation

Valentine’s Day lacks official ties to Christianity, despite it being connected to Saint Valentine. The celebration of love that happens on February 14th transcends religious confines and emerges as a profane event embraced by people of various faiths and beliefs. This day can serve as an opportunity to celebrate love in various expressions including romantic or affectionate relationships, family ties and fellowship. 



Valentine’s Day acts as a global reminder to express love and affection. While its origins are complex and rooted in old traditions, it has transformed into a celebration of love in its many forms. Whether in Africa, where the day focuses on the budding relationships or, to the West, where it celebrates relationships that exist, the essential belief in the omnipresence of love stands firm and the core message remains the same: love transcends all boundaries.

It is imperative to embrace the idea that Valentine’s Day is not exclusive to any one group or belief system, while recognizing the varied cultural expressions of love on this day. It is possible to utilize Valentine’s Day to spread the message of love and reach out to the people we care about without boundaries or restrictions. This day can be celebrated by everyone, regardless of their cultural background and relationship status. It’s entirely up to you!

Articles from Charles Wekesa