February has a long history of being the month of love. But who was Saint Valentine, and how did he become associated with this ancient tradition?

In one legend, Valentine was a Roman priest in the third century. Emperor Claudius II didn’t permit young men to marry, believing that they were better soldiers than those with wives and children. Valentine disobeyed the Emperor and continued to perform secret marriages of young couples. Claudius II ordered Valentine’s execution after learning of his deeds. Other stories tell that Valentine was slain for trying to assist Christians from Roman captivity. One version has an arrested Valentine who wrote the first “valentine” greeting after falling in love with a young girl who visited him while he was imprisoned—possibly his jailer’s daughter. Before his death, he’s believed to have written her a note with “From your Valentine,” an expression that is still used today.

Valentine’s legends are quite vague, yet they all highlight his charm as a sympathetic, heroic, and, most importantly, loving individual. Valentine’s Day began as a romantic holiday, but it has evolved into a celebration that includes families and friends.