Valentine’s Day is the Hallmark holiday set up by greeting card companies to make money, right? Valentine’s Day has a questionable history built on myth and legends. This is what we know about Valentine’s Day: you feel lonely because you do not have a significant other, you have to avoid the movies for a month to avoid all the superfluous PDA in the theaters, and you have to avoid social media for a week to avoid the mushiness for couples and the melancholy from singles. But what do we not know?
The origin of the love holiday started in Rome. It was called Lupercalia and was a celebration of fertility and was originally on February 15. It was not until Pope Gelasius I recast the celebration as a Christian feast day in approximately the year 496. The Pope declared this day to be St. Valentine’s Day. Which exact saint the pope named the day after is unknown as there were three saints with the name of Valentine. All three saints, one a Priest in Rome, another a bishop in Terni, the last was only known to die in Africa, were martyred on February 14. To be martyred is to be put to death, or executed, for not renouncing their faiths.
Another legend puts it one saint who was martyred for falling in love. A Roman emperor, Claudius II, was said to have a strong dislike for St. Valentine. Claudius prohibited the marriage of young men because he said they made better soldiers rather than husbands. However, Valentine continued to hold marriage ceremonies in secret until he was eventually caught and arrested. While imprisoned, Valentine was said to have fallen in love with his jailer’s daughter. The two exchanged letters to one another and on his final letter to her, he signed “from your Valentine.” This started the association of love with Valentine’s name. St. Valentine was then martyred for not renouncing his religion.
It wasn’t until the 14th century that the association became definitive. In 1381 a poet named Chaucer wrote a poem in honor of Richard II and Anne of Bohemia’s engagement. This poem was titled “The Parliament of Fowls.” The line of “For this was on St. Valentine’s Day when every fowl cometh there to choose his mate” not only compared Valentine’s Day with the engagement but also called them love birds.
Although Valentine’s Day has been a “hallmark” holiday reserved for chocolates and flowers and the inevitable romance movie, there is still some history to be seen in the holiday.