If you’re anything like me, you’re of the belief that Valentine’s Day was invented by candy companies and bored housewives. I personally camp out with all the beleaguered husbands and boyfriends, watching the weeping masses pass by the heart-frosted window panes. In the interest of giving my outlook some support, I investigated it this year.
I was under the impression that Saint Valentine was some kind of brave soul who went around marrying people who weren’t allowed to be wed back in the Dark Ages. Or that the mystical saint helped lovers elope or stood in the face of someone with a lot of power to fight for the right to love-who-you-love. Several books and articles later, I am disappointed to learn that Saint Valentine was not a romantic—if such a person even existed at all.
Scholars and historians have actual records of three different Saint Valentine’s dying around February 14th. The first died sometime in the third century with twenty-four soldiers and that’s about all we know about him. The other two are, most likely, the same person with some changes to the story. The second Saint Valentine was most likely out to convert pagans to Christianity and performed a miracle which restored the sight to a Roman aristocrat’s daughter. Unfortunately for him, the Roman emperor didn’t like that and had his head chopped off.
The most likely truth of the holiday is only a little further off from what I already believed. Someone did make up Valentine’s Day, but it isn’t who you might think…
Geoffrey Chaucer, author of ‘The Canterbury Tales,’ made the connection between February and the mating of birds. Apparently, in Chaucer’s day, English birds paired off to lay eggs in February. Soon, the European nobles began sending love notes to each other while the birds and the bees got started. Shakespeare also joined the idea by writing of a lovestruck Ophelia calling herself Hamlet’s Valentine. Englishmen and women began using February 14th as an excuse to write poetry for their beloveds.
As the centuries went on, the commercialization began. Mass-produced cards and smarmy poetry hit the shelves. Cadbury and Hershey began to market ‘Sweets for Your Sweetheart.’ Even though the origins of Valentine’s Day remain as elusive as love itself, at least we live in a time when people aren’t being beheaded for it.