We will now pass on to the world-renowned day of St. Valentine. What he has to do with love affairs seems to be a mystery; for all we can gather about him is that he was a priest in Rome who suffered martyrdom in 270. Still, to trace the origin of the love-missives with which we burden the poor martyr, we must once more look back to those days of feasting at Rome.
We there find that there was great ceremony and rejoicing in the observance of the Lupercalia, feasts in honour of the hideous god Pan, which were held on the 14th and following days. Possibly the coincidence of this on the 14th day, which was also the one dedicated to St. Valentine, may account for the title of “valentine ” being given to the love-tokens as time went on and the Roman feasts became forgotten.
It seems to have been customary at that time for the Roman maidens to put their names into a box, and these were afterward drawn by the youths, who claimed the owners of the names drawn as their sweethearts, or valentines as we might now call them.
We can easily imagine that much merry-making followed. These “nods and becks and wreathed smiles,” however, have gone the way of many other harmless and merry things, and by this time all that remains is a number of paper billets which show Cupid, with wings spread, sitting on a cloud shooting darts that pin two hearts together. Mr. Punch has recently had it, “The valentine for me must bring me only £ s. d.,” and this pretty well represents the case in this present decade.
Source: Things not generally known, 1880