The problem is there are actually three St. Valentine's -- one a priest, one a bishop, and little is known about the third. All were martyrs.
In 469 A.D., Pope Gelasius declared Feb. 14 a day to honor St. Valentine, one of these three men.
One legend says that a Roman emperor banned soldiers from marrying in the third century, but St. Valentine took issue with this. He became an advocate for soldiers and was executed as a result of his outspokenness.
Another legend says St. Valentine was executed for his beliefs in Christianity and just before he died, he left a farewell note for a loved one and signed it "From Your Valentine."
A conventional and widely accepted belief about the holiday itself is that Valentine's Day grew out of a Middle Ages tradition of celebrating Feb. 14 as the day "the birds began to pair."
History.com notes that February has long been associated with being a month of love, and Feb. 15 was celebrated in ancient times as a fertility festival.
In Romania, the traditional holiday for lovers is Dragobete, which is celebrated on February 24. It is named after a character from Romanian folklore who was supposed to be the son of Baba Dochia. Part of his name is the word drag ("dear"), which can also be found in the word dragoste ("love"). In recent years, Romania has also started celebrating Valentine's Day, despite already having Dragobete as a traditional holiday. This has drawn backlash from many groups, reputable persons and institutions but also nationalist organizations like Noua Dreaptǎ, who condemn Valentine's Day for being superficial, commercialist and imported Western kitsch.
In Slovenia, a proverb says that "St Valentine brings the keys of roots," so on February 14, plants and flowers start to grow. Valentine's Day has been celebrated as the day when the first work in the vineyards and in the fields commences. It is also said that birds propose to each other or marry on that day. Nevertheless, it has only recently been celebrated as the day of love. The day of love is traditionally March 12, the Saint Gregory's day. Another proverb says "Valentin - prvi spomladin" ("Valentine — first saint of spring"), as in some places (especially White Carniola) Saint Valentine marks the beginning of spring.
Valentine's Day is called Sevgililer Günü in Turkey, which translates into "Sweethearts' Day".
According to Jewish tradition the 15th day of the month of Av - Tu B'Av (usually late August) is the festival of love. In ancient times girls would wear white dresses and dance in the vineyards, where the boys would be waiting for them (Mishna Taanith end of Chapter 4). In modern Israeli culture this is a popular day to pronounce love, propose marriage and give gifts like cards or flowers.
In some Southamerican countries Valentine's Day is known as "Día del Amor y la Amistad" (Day of Love and Friendship). For example Mexico, Costa Rica, Ecuador, y El Salvador. Although it is similar to the United States' version in many ways, it is also common to see people do "acts of appreciation" for their friends.
In Brazil, the Dia dos Namorados (lit. "Day of the Enamored", or "Boyfriends'/Girlfriends' Day") is celebrated on June 12, when couples exchange gifts, chocolates, cards and flower bouquets. This day was chosen probably because it is the day before the Festa junina’s Saint Anthony's day, known there as the marriage saint, when traditionally many single women perform popular rituals, called simpatias, in order to find a good husband or boyfriend. The February 14's Valentine's Day is not celebrated at all, mainly for cultural and commercial reasons, since it usually falls too little before or after Carnival, a major floating holiday in Brazil — long regarded as a holiday of sex and debauchery by many in the country — that can fall anywhere from early February to early March.
In Venezuela, in 2009, President Hugo Chavez said in a meeting to his supporters for the upcoming referendum vote on February 15, that "since on the 14th, there will be no time of doing nothing, nothing or next to nothing ... maybe a little kiss or something very superficial", he recommended people to celebrate a week of love after the referendum vote.
In most of South America the Día del amor y la amistad (lit. "Love and Friendship Day") and the Amigo secreto ("Secret friend") are quite popular and usually celebrated together on the 14 of February (one exception is Colombia, where it is celebrated every third Saturday of September). The latter consists of randomly assigning to each participant a recipient who is to be given an anonymous gift (similar to the Christmas tradition of Secret Santa).
In Japan, in 1960, Morinaga, one of the biggest Japanese confectionery companies, originated the present custom that only women give chocolates to men. In particular, office ladies give chocolate to their co-workers. One month later, on March 14, White Day was created by the Japanese National Confectionery Industry Association as a "reply day", where men are expected to return the favour to those who gave them chocolates on Valentine's Day. Unlike western countries, gifts such as candies, flowers, or dinner dates are uncommon. Many women feel obliged to give chocolates to all male co-workers, except when the 14th falls on a Sunday, a holiday. This is known as giri-choko (義理チョコ), from giri ("obligation") and choko, ("chocolate"), with unpopular co-workers receiving only "ultra-obligatory" chō-giri choko cheap chocolate. This contrasts with honmei-choko (本命チョコ, Favorite chocolate); chocolate given to a loved one. Friends, especially girls, may exchange chocolate referred to as tomo-choko (友チョコ); from tomo meaning "friend".In South Korea, women give chocolate to men on February 14, and men give non-chocolate candy to women on March 14 (White Day). On April 14 (Black Day), those who did not receive anything on the 14th of Feb or March go to a Chinese restaurant to eat black noodles (자장면 jajangmyeon) and "mourn" their single life. Koreans also celebrate Pepero Day on November 11, when young couples give each other Pepero cookies. The date '11/11' is intended to resemble the long shape of the cookie. The 14th of every month marks a love-related day in Korea, although most of them are obscure. From January to December: Candle Day, Valentine's Day, White Day, Black Day, Rose Day, Kiss Day, Silver Day, Green Day, Music Day, Wine Day, Movie Day, and Hug Day.In China, the common situation is the man gives chocolate, flowers or both to the woman that he loves. In Chinese, Valentine's Day is called (simplified Chinese: 情人节; traditional Chinese: 情人節; pinyin: qíng rén jié).
In the Philippines, Valentine's Day is called "Araw ng mga Puso" or "Hearts Day". It is usually marked by a steep increase in the prices of flowers.
Similar Asian traditions
In Chinese culture, there is an older observance related to lovers, called "The Night of Sevens" (Chinese: 七夕; pinyin: Qi Xi). According to the legend, the Cowherd star and the Weaver Maid star are normally separated by the milky way (silvery river) but are allowed to meet by crossing it on the 7th day of the 7th month of the Chinese calendar.
In Iran, the Sepandarmazgan, or Esfandegan, is an age-old traditional celebration of love, friendship and Earth. It has been progressively forgotten in favour of the Western celebration of Valentine's Day. The Association of Iran's Cultural and Natural Phenomena has been trying since 2006 to make Sepandarmazgan a national holiday on 17 February, in order to replace the Western holiday.
In India, in past Valentine's Day has been explicitly discouraged by some of the Hindu fundamentalists, mainly the Shiv Sena, the Bajrang Dal and the Vishva Hindu Parishad. Since 2001 there has been each year violent clashes between shopkeepers dealing in Valentine related items and Shiv Sena die-hards, who oppose it as "cultural pollution from the west". Especially in Mumbai and surrounding areas Bal Thackeray and others sent out signals before the day warning people not to have anything to do with Valentine. Those who violate this are dealt with harshly by baton-holding brigands of Shiv Sena who lurk in public places especially parks, chasing young people holding hands and others suspected to be lovers. In many parts of south India couples who are found in parks and other public places are immediately forced to marry on the spot by the Shiv Sena and other similar activists.
The Middle East
In Saudi Arabia, in 2002 and 2008, religious police banned the sale of all Valentine's Day items, telling shop workers to remove any red items, as the day is considered a Christian holiday. In 2008 this ban created a black market of roses and wrapping paper.
The Jamaat-e-Islami political party has called for the banning of the holiday, and has called it "a shameful day. The people in the West are just fulfilling and satisfying their sex thirst." They claim that the holiday is an insult to Islam. Despite this, the celebration is increasingly popular and the florist shops expect to sell great amount of flowers, specially red roses.
HAPPY VALENTINE'S DAY!