This Week in History: Feb. 14-20 

The Triumph of Saint Valentine painted by Valentin Metzinger, early 18th century. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia

They say life is like a box of chocolates — well, at least Forrest Gump said it is. But I’d make the argument that history is also like a box of chocolates, with each event as its own little truffle in a heart-shaped box that is the collective human story. Some are sweet, others dark and rich, and of course, some are filled with nuts.  

To celebrate Valentine’s Day, This Week in History is putting together its own random assortment of some of the most notable moments in history to occur this week. So let’s dive in! 

On Feb. 14, 270, 1752 years ago, St. Valentine was beheaded by the Roman emperor, Claudius II.  

For those wondering where the holiday of Valentine’s Day came from, look no further than the man named Valentine himself. 

Valentine, a holy priest of the newly-formed Roman Catholic Church, lived in Rome during some of the darkest days of the Roman Empire. The emperor, nicknamed Claudius the Cruel, was a universally hated ruler who hoped to change his reputation by winning wars and expanding the empire. One problem: no soldiers wanted to follow a blood-thirsty psychopath into battle.  

Per Roman law, no citizen had to serve in the army if they were married, so Roman men began marrying and having children younger and younger to avoid being sent to the frontlines. The emperor responded by outlawing marriage entirely — something the Romans did not take kindly to, as you can imagine. 

Valentine defied the emperor by continuing to perform wedding ceremonies for young couples in secret, thus beginning his connection to love and romance. When the emperor learned of his transgressions, Valentine was imprisoned and sentenced to death by clubbing and decapitation. Legend has it, before his execution on Feb. 14, he sent a farewell note to the prison guard’s daughter, signing the card “From Your Valentine.” 

In 496, Pope Gelasius declared Feb. 14 as the feast day of the newly-canonized St. Valentine, meant to honor and remember the saint’s tragic and untimely death. However, his intentions may not have been completely pure, as it is widely believed that Gelasius created St. Valentine’s Day to stop the celebration of the pagan holiday, Lupercalia. In Roman times, the Feast of Lupercalia was the festival of love, where all eligible bachelors and bachelorettes would pick a name from a box and celebrated the evening with whoever the lottery chose for them. Disgusted by this tradition, Gelasius hoped the observance of a saint’s brutal murder would put an end to excessive love and affection on Feb. 14. Suffice it to say, he was not successful. 

On Feb. 15, 1950, 72 years ago, Disney’s “Cinderella” was released in theaters nationwide. 

Fittingly released the day after Valentine’s Day, the classic love story of the girl who lost her shoe, and the prince who searched the entire kingdom to return it to her was met with immediate praise from audiences of all ages. 

By 1950, Disney was already a household name, having dazzled the world in 1937 with the first full-length animated feature film: “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.” The following years saw Disney’s “Golden Age,” featuring Hollywood classics such as “Pinocchio,” “Fantasia,” “Dumbo” and “Bambi.” After a brief hiatus creating war-time propaganda films in the 1940s — yes, Mickey and Donald fought Nazis during WWII — Disney returned to the full-length model that had brought them acclaim two decades prior. 

“Cinderella” marks the first film of Disney’s “Silver Era,” where classics like “Alice in Wonderland,” “Peter Pan,” “Sleeping Beauty,” “One Hundred and One Dalmatians” and “The Jungle Book.” This era would be one of Disney’s most financially successful, and continued revenue from theatrical rereleases would save the company from bankruptcy. Though Disney would enter its dark age in the late 60s and 70s, 1989’s “The Little Mermaid” would mark its revival, proving that everyone loves the classic musical fairy-tales Disney is known for. 

On Feb. 14, 1962, 60 years ago, first lady Jacqueline Kennedy appeared on national television, giving America a tour of the White House. 

Quite possibly the most famous first lady to ever live in Washington, D.C., Mrs. Kennedy was just as beloved as her husband was, becoming a fashion icon whose glamour and style were renowned worldwide. A fierce advocate for historic preservation, she began a major restoration project of the White House upon her family’s arrival, seeking to bring the building into the modern age, while paying tribute to the deep history of the structure. To mark its completion, Mrs. Kennedy welcomed the nation into her home for the evening. 

She showcased several White House staterooms and proved her knowledge of fine art in a red dress and pearls she handpicked for Valentine’s Day. Though President John F. Kennedy joined the broadcast in the last five minutes, Mrs. Kennedy stole the show and even won an honorary Emmy Award. 

The Canadian maple leaf flag is very iconic; it’s something you think of immediately when you hear about Canada. On Feb. 15, 1965, the flag was officially adopted. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia

On Feb. 15, 1965, the Canadian maple leaf flag was officially adopted. 

For our final event of the week, let’s head north to the land of moose, hockey and genuinely nice people. While the maple leaf flag may seem as Canadian as Canadian bacon, the classic red and white emblem is fairly new. While Canada is an independent nation, it is still to this day part of the Commonwealth as a former British colony that still recognizes Queen Elizabeth II as their sovereign.  

Canada was an official British territory until 1867 when the Dominion of Canada was established as a self-governing federation by the British government. At this point, Canada switched from the Union Jack flag of the British Empire to the Canadian Red Ensign, which was essentially a red flag with the British flag in the top left corner, a popular style for former British domains. 

The search for a new Canadian flag began in the 1920s, but the search intensified by the 1960s since the Canadian government hoped to choose a new emblem in time for the nation’s 100th anniversary of self-rule. 

After the queen signed off on the decision, the simple yet iconic maple leaf design was adopted and flew over the nation’s capital for the first time, ultimately becoming one of the world’s most recognizable emblems. 

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