Kids love holidays. Classrooms will be decorated, candy will be eaten, and joy will be had. And there’s no reason why teachers can’t take advantage of that existing interest by centering educational lessons on the holiday in question. The trick, of course, is making the activity actually educational—and not just a chance for kids to get hopped up on sugar and socialization.
We’re fast approaching Valentine’s Day—a holiday that has, perhaps the worst reputation (next to Halloween) for being a sugar-fest. With young kids, making Valentines is a good chance just to let them practice motor skills—like cutting and drawing—and develop empathy for others. But there’s more to this holiday of love than many kids know, so why not create a lesson that actually teaches kids a little bit about where the holiday comes from?
Valentine’s Day comes from traditions rooted in Christianity and ancient Rome. There are three different saints in the Catholic Church that are named Valentine, or Valentinus. One was a priest put to death for performing marriages against the orders of Rome’s Emperor Claudius II, who believed that single men made better soldiers.
Another Valentine is rumored to have been killed trying to help Christians escape Roman prisons; where as a prisoner he fell in love with his captor’s daughter. The story goes that he wrote the first ever “valentine” to her, signing it “From your Valentine.” This Valentine was immortalized, becoming a popular saint throughout England and France in particular.
But where did the day of celebration actually come from? Like many holidays, the origins are a bit mysterious and murky. Regardless of which Valentine we’re honoring with the holiday, though, both were martyred figures, with a tender heart and appreciation of love. Some believe that the holiday is the same day as Valentine’s death, while others say it is a Christianized version of the pagan celebration of Lupercalia—a fertility festival dedicated to Faunus, Romulus, and Remus and celebrated on February 15th.
In the 5th century, Pope Gelasius declared that February 14th was St. Valentine’s Day and outlawed Lupercalia, calling it un-Christian. Eventually, though, Valentine’s Day became associated with the idea of love—Valentine’s greetings were popular in the Middle Ages, and written valentines rose to popularity after the 1400s.
Today, of course, Valentine’s Day is still around. It’s a global holiday, celebrated in the U.S., the U.K., Canada, Mexico, France, and Australia. An estimated 1 billion Valentine’s Day cards are purchased and sent every single year. That’s a lot of valentines!
Be sure to check out History.com for a far more detailed history of the holiday—and share in the comments below any ideas you have for incorporating its history into your lesson this year!