How Did Valentine’s Day Become a Thing? Part One

I’ve always sort of wondered about that, so this year I decided to do a little research on it. Nothing in depth, though, but I was able to find a lot of information on line.

The problem? A lot of seemingly conflicting articles that may or may not be that accurate. Or that romantic, for sure.

Now I’ve heard of St. Valentine, but really didn’t know much about him. I figured he probably was someone who spent his life bringing couples together, marrying them in romantic settings for a happily ever after. As a writer, I was hoping for a truly “A-hah!” moment that would tell the perfect story.

Well, I was wrong. Sort of. And I also discovered several different sites (Good Housekeeping, Wikipedia,  and History.com) that told different stories, so I’m going to try and condense what I came up with, but please don’t take my word for it. Do your own research. This is a blog, after all, not a history book! And I did at least name my sources,

Here’s some of what I found out.

There were actually three Saint Valentines, but the one seemingly associated with our V-Day was a 3rd century Roman priest and physician who secretly married young couples against the orders of the authorities. (Of course the marriages were illegal in the eyes of the state.) The reason? The authorities were afraid married soldiers would be distracted from their duties if they had a wife and family. He was caught and imprisoned, and eventually beheaded on, you guessed it, February 14. 

There’s also a story about another Saint Valentine during that same time period who was the Bishop of Terni. He also was said to have performed secret marriages and eventually beheaded. Then there’s possibly another Valentine who was imprisoned supposedly for attempting to help Christians escape Roman prisons where they were beaten and tortured. This Valentine was also imprisoned and supposedly sent the first valentine greeting to a young girl he’d fallen in love with (supposedly the jailer’s daughter) and signed it “from your Valentine”.

History.com says there isn’t necessarily a lot of proof to substantiate which story is true. Evidently Valentine was a popular name during those times. Real person? Three real persons? Or a myth? Your guess is as good as mine! Either way, it’s not very romantic, at least in today’s standards.

Evidently several centuries later the idea of putting romance into the St. Valentine’s feast day evolved through the writings of the English author Geoffrey Chaucer, who write a poem called “Parliament of Fowls” which contained the line “For this was on St. Valentine’s Day, when every bird comes there to choose his mate.” Wow, romantic sayings were sure different then! I’m not sure what that means or even has to do with love, but it was believed back then that lovebirds began mating on that day, so I guess that’s one reason. (And that’s also why we use the term “lovebirds”)

Chaucer’s poem was supposedly written to celebrate King Richard II’s engagement to Anne of Bohemia on that date. She was 16 and his second wife. It’s unclear if it was originally a love match because in those days, traditionally royal marriages were arranged for strategic purposes.

So far I’m not seeing a real romantic story here…at least nothing I’d use to suggest flowers, romantic dinners, and boxes of chocolates!

But I did find a few more less-gory tidbits in my research, that I think you’ll find interesting.

This somewhat fractured Valentine’s Day history continues tomorrow, including some interesting facts about the cards and candy we traditionally see at this time of year, with Part Two of “How Did Valentine’s Day Become a Thing?”

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