Wednesday, February 10, 2010

What's the Deal with Valentine's Day?

I’m sitting at my desk writing my blog while watching the snow fall. Last weekend, we received between 36 and 40 inches, but with snowdrifts topping 6 feet, it’s hard to tell if we got that added 4 inches or not. Today and tomorrow, we’re expected to receive another 20 inches of the white stuff. Lucky us.

So here I am, hunkered down in the house, writing my blog and wondering why they chose a bleak month like February to celebrate Valentine’s Day. I concluded that in the days of old, there was little to do during the short winter days, so why not celebrate love, cuddle up with your Valentine, and enjoy. Imagine my surprise when, after a few minutes of research, I discovered I was wrong. Here’s what I found out about Valentine’s Day…

Valentines Day began as a Pagan fertility festival called Lupercalia (February 15th), which involved nudity and whipping (and no, I’m not talking about whipped cream). During the festival, the boys whipped the girls’ bottoms to stimulate fertility— though I’m not sure whether it was the boy’s fertility or the girl’s they were aiming to stimulate.

In 197 AD a Christian known as Valentine of Terni was martyred and beheaded on February 14th by a Roman Prefect with the oxymoronic name of Placid Furius. This was the first Valentine reference I came across in my research that corresponded to the date of February 14th, but he was not the last. It happened again in 289 AD. This Valentine of Rome was jailed for aiding prisoners. While in jail, he converted his jailer and healed the jailer’s blind daughter’s sight. He supposedly fell in love with the girl and sent her notes signed “From your Valentine” which was, I suppose, the first Valentine’s Day card. Ironically, he is said to have died on February 14th. I believe it was under Pope Claudius that he became a Saint. However, it wasn’t until.496 AD, that Pope Gelasius made a bid for peace with the still popular pagans and their festival of Lupercalia, by declaring February 14th to be St. Valentine’s Day—a Christian feast day.

The first reference of Valentine’s Day that was linked to romantic love wasn’t until 1382 in Geoffrey Chaucer’s Parliament of Fowls. It was written to celebrate the engagement of England’s Richard II to Anne of Bohemia. Chaucer wrote “For this was on St. Valentine’s Day/When every fowl cometh there to choose his mate” but then since he was talking about mating birds, which doesn’t happen in February, this probably took place on May 2nd, the Saint’s Day in the Liturgical calendar. Still, the link between Valentine’s Day and romantic love was formed. Further cementing the correlation, in 1601, St. Valentines Day was mentioned by none other than Shakespeare in Ophelia’s lament in Hamlet “Tomorrow is St. Valentine’s Day,/All in the morning betime,/And I a maid at your window,/To be your Valentine.”

So, you might ask where and when the tradition of Valentine’s Cards came into play. That one, as well as the whole romantic love connection can be blamed or attributed (depending on your point of view) to the English. In the mid 18th century, passing love-notes became popular in England. They were made of lace and paper and The Young Man’s Valentine Writer was published. By the early 19th century, love-notes became so popular, factories began to mass produce them.

In 1913, Hallmark Cards produced their first Valentine in the US. Since then, commercialization of the holiday continued and grew to include chocolate, flowers, cards, and diamonds. A few of my favorite things. Obviously, most men don’t take my husband’s view on the holiday. Last year, it’s estimated that Valentine’s Day sales generated $14.7 billion dollars in retail sales in the US alone—none of which was from my Domestic God. I never said the man was perfect, just close. Although he’s not one for cards or gifts, he’s the most giving man I know every other day of the year. Still, a little chocolate and a diamond or two would be appreciated. {grin}

May your Valentine’s Day be a memorable one. I’m looking forward to cuddling up with my husband and kids and enjoying some quality time together. I’ve decided that I’m glad Valentine’s Day is in February. Can you think of a better way to brighten up an otherwise bleak and depressing month?


  1. Very interesting post Robin and how I wished it was cool here in Australia I am really over the hot humid weather we have been having.

    I usually get chocolates on Valentines day which I love and am very happy with that I prefer to spend time together although this Valentines Day I will be out to lunch with a group of romance readers what fun are we going to get up too.

    have Fun

  2. Hi Helen~

    You want to switch places? I'll fly over in a heartbeat. I'm so sick of snow, you can't imagine.

    This Valentines Day I'll finally have my dancer home. We missed seeing her last weekend and I'm missing her something awful. I saw her yesterday at school for about 10 minutes (I was there for a meeting) and I spent the entire time hugging her and I think she's grown an inch.

  3. Thanks for clueing us in about the origin's of St Valentine's Day. I love tidbits like that-- the festival that started it all sounds positively kinky. :-)

    I have the same problem with Valentine's that people with December birthdays have with Christmas. My birthday is so close, the two get collapsed together. The decorations for every birthday party I've ever had involved lots and lots of red hearts, and cards and presents often have a Valentine's theme.

    I know seeing your daughter will be the best Valentine you could possibly receive.

  4. Definitely a good way to bright a bleak month, especially the way this one's been going. It's always fun to learn a bit of history about anything and especially a holiday. However, with the way this holiday started I'm not sure. I can see some people trying to go back to that (and not in a good way). I love the part about Valentine in jail, falling in love and sending notes.

    Valentine's Day is just another day around our house. No bling, no roses, sometimes a card. But chocolate, now that we have every day. Besides, it's the little things that are done that count in the long run. Hope you have a wonderful Valentine's Day.

    (Helen, have room for one more? It's 25 degrees here with snow flurries.)

  5. Happy Birthday, Mary Margaret! I hope we can get Twinkle Toes after yet another blizzard. We have about a foot of new snow so far and it's showing no signs of stopping.

    Mason, hey, I think we should all head to Helen's I've always wanted to go down under. Valentine's Day is just another day here too. But like I said, DH is really good at giving all year round so I can't complain too much. After the 4th time we bought each other the same cards (And I'm not kidding about that) we decided to just go pick out a card and read it, chances are that's the card we would have given each other so why waste the money?

  6. Way cool history lesson, thanks for sharing!

    My wedding anniversary always falls the day before Valentine's (long story, we won a wedding 12 years ago as part of a Portland Trailblazers halftime promo and got married at center court) so I get a double dose in February. Given how bleak and dreary the month tends to be, I need it!

    Thanks again for the Valentine's insights!


  7. And to think I was complaining about a lousy 6 inches of snow. Ya got us beat!

    That was an interestering blog in Valentine's day. A short story I read awhile back had the original Valentine as a man who would marry the soliders in Rome's army, even though it was against the law. I do believe he got beheaded. In this short story he got a second chance to find his own love as a cowboy caught in a snowstorm. Runs across a woman who was almost frozen in same blizzard. It was a cute story but can't remember who wrote it or which anthology it was in. I have to wait till at least spring for the ole brain to thaw!

  8. Very interesting Robin! One thing that has always intrigued me are how closely related some Saints Days and pagan holidays are--shows how similar and different people regard things.

    Happy VDay--stay warm and safe!!

  9. Ooh!! I love history! LOL!

    Thanks for this, Robin. I did a bit of research on the whole Valentine subject a couple of years ago. Partly it was for an essay similar to yours that I posted on my website over Valentine's week, but also because I thought it would be awesome for my romantic Mr. Darcy to give Valentines to Lizzy. Alas I was thwarted when I discovered that although the day was around prior to the early 1800s, no one made much of it until those romantic Victorians. LOL! Luckily Darcy has plenty of other romantic gestures up his woolen coat sleeves.

    All great! Thanks. :)

  10. Happy Birthday from me too, Mary Margret!! Have a wonderful celebration.

  11. Thanks for all the history! I love it.

  12. I do hope you get your dancer home for the weekend Robin and the snow doesn't stop her.

    You are all welcome to visit and enjoy the hot weather

    Have Fun

  13. Tawna~ How cool is that? The Trailblazers half-time wedding. I love it. That just might end up in a book somewhere.

    Jessica~ The first Valentine was beheaded, maybe that was him. Odd yet fascinating. It's still snowing here. God only knows how much is out there.

    Danielle~ I know the Church had Saints Days around Pagan Holiday's because they were trying to convert and appease them way back when... I thought it was really convenient too.

    Sharon~ LOL I don't think your Darcy has problems with a lack of romantic gestures.

    Hi Shana~ I'm glad you enjoyed it. I had a great time doing the research. Who knew?

    Helen, you better not say that, I'm tempted to check out the cost of flights.

  14. Wow - there's a lot I didn't know about Valentine's day! Thanks for your post, it was really interesting... and slightly creepy. I'll focus on the happy parts and hope for chocolate!


  15. Interesting post, Robin! The one good thing about living in the desert is the snow to shovel, temperature often in the seventies, and sunshine most of the time. :} This is the time of year when we all get out and enjoy.

  16. Love this post Robin. I hope you get to enjoy your daughter's company this weekend. Happy Birthday Mary Margret. Today is my BFF's BD. Love those Aquarians.