Here follows, slightly revised, my opening remarks as the emcee at our church's annual Valentine Dinner and Talent Show:
"February 14th was originally a pagan celebration, started by the Romans in the pre-Christian era. It involved a lot of pagan rituals, which we won't get into right now in deference to the wonderful dinner we just ate, but where do you think hearts and the color red came from? Of course it wasn't called February then, the Romans called it Februarius and the 14 was written in Roman numerals, which were hard for even the Romans to keep track of, what with all the capital letters. So there was a lot of strife between husbands and wives and boyfriends and girlfriends back then on Valentinius. (The Day was added until later.)
"The wife or girlfriend, not noticing any hyssop (they didn't have roses back then)or any scrolls from Hallmarkius, would say, 'Maximilius, do you know what day this?' and Maximilius would reply, 'Sure, Honeyius, it's X-I-V.' Then poor Maximilius would have to try to figure out what X-I-V stood for.
"'Let's see, the X is ten and the V is five and the I is one, so it must be Februarius 16th,' but then his wife or girlfriend would have to correct him, 'No, Maximilius, remember when the I is in front of a letter, you take away a number,' so then they would get in an argument whether the I was behind the X, in which case, the I combined with the X to make 11 plus five for the V to make 16, or in front of the V, in which case,the X made 10 and the I and the V combined to make 4,for a total of 14. By the time Honeyius had Maximilius convinced it was Valentine's it was too late to send the slave to the market to pick up some chocolate, and they only had bitter sweet chocolate back then anyway, so why bother. Besides which they were too irritated with each other for romance in any event. So, there were a lot of fights and breakups and society generally just wasn't as happy as it is today.
"When the Catholics took over the Western world in about 500 A.D., they decided to make some changes, some of which were good and some not so good. First of all, they dropped the "ius" endings from all the names, so Februarius became February, Maximimilius became just plain old Max and Valentinius became Valentine's. And to make it easier to remember all the Hallmark holidays, they decided to drop the antiquated Roman numeral system and just go with the plain numbers without the letters.
"That worked a lot better, but the Catholics also decided it wouldn't do to observe a pagan holiday, so they Christianized Valentine's by naming it after a Catholic saint, who, coincidentally, was named St. Valentine and his last name, coincidentally, was Day. Hence "St. Valentine Day." The problem with naming a holiday that for thousands of years had been associated with love and romance after a Catholic saint was that the saint was celibate, as were all Catholic saints. And really, the important thing about St. Valentine Day was that he had tried to convert the Emperor Claudius, and having failed that, Claudius had imprisoned him and eventually beheaded him.
"For about a thousand years, St. Valentine Day, was a rather somber affair, with the church reminding everyone of the virtues of chastity, and just to keep anyone from getting any romantic ideas in their heads, remembering the decapitation of St. Valentine Day by having symbolic, and occasionally, if a heretic was spotted among the peasants, not-so-symbolic, beheadings. Cards were rather expensive before Guttenberg invented the printing press, because sending a card involved hiring a couple of monks to hand draw the thing, and by the time they got it done, it was the Fourth of July and kind of beside the point.
"Hallmark was on the verge of bankruptcy because people had gotten out of the habit of celebrating St. Valentine Day, and then, luckily the Reformation came along. There were two things that had Menno Simons really upset about the Catholic church. One was the baptism of babies, but the second thing was the celebration of St. Valentine Day (you won't find this in many of the theologies and church histories, but if you look hard, I'm sure there is a footnote somewhere that will confirm this.) Menno Simons had been a Catholic priest who had been celibate all of his life, and then had gotten married and discovered the joys of love (this was just before he invented car wax.)
"So, an early tenet of the church that Menno started was that February 14th would be called just 'Valentine's Day,' no more references to any martyred saint, no more symbolic beheadings and no more actual eating of Christ's flesh or drinking of his blood. Instead, all the blood would be replaced with candy, chocolate usually, and flowers and people would send cards to each other proclaiming their love. This was actually part of the original Schleitheim Confession, but through a transcription error was left off. You can look it up. Someplace. So enjoy the evening, but for the sake of your significant other, try to forget about the origins of the day."