Today is Valentine’s Day, widely known in the United States as “That Notorious Hallmark Holiday in Which the Girl Expects Flowers and/or Chocolate… Or Else”. Between rose petals, red wine, repeating bad French, and sitting through chick flicks, a lot of people don’t stop to consider the origin of the holiday, or some of the less-selfish reasons to celebrate it. Honestly, I have very little respect for anyone who showers their mate with candies, expecting to receive sexual intercourse in return.
Valentine’s Day, like most seemingly-origin-less holiday, began as an observation of a martyred saint: Saint Valentine. Obviously a day of remembrance is not really grounds for sweeping your lady off her feet and into the bedroom. Very little is actually known about Saint Valentine, whose feast is observed on February 14th, other than his resting place and name. In fact, it is even uncertain whether the holiday was intended as reverence to that saint, or several of the same name, a name which was popular in Late Roman Antiquity. Due to the uncertainty of this, technically February 14th was removed as a Day Of Observance in 1969… but as you all know, it’s still on our calendars. Why?
The Valentine’s Day as we know it was not the work of a Catholic martyr, but moreso the English writer, poet, and historian: Geoffrey Chaucer. For those not familiar with Geoffrey Chaucer and his Canterbury Tales, then it is important to know that Chaucer lived in the High Middle Ages, the era in which courtly love and the Code of Chivalry still existed. The first-ever mention of Valentine’s Day was in Caucer’s Parlement of Faoules, in a passage that read:
“For this was on seynt Volantynys day, whan euery bryd comyth there to chese his make.
(For this was Saint Valentine’s Day, when every bird cometh there to choose his mate.).
The poem was dedicated to Richard II of England and Anne of Bohemia when they were fourteen at their engagement anniversary. While like everything else in history, the fact he was actually referring to February 14th is being debated… but it did inspire an excuse to give flowers and try to catch the eye of that pretty girl the young men had been eying.
Of course, from there, the holiday has only evolved.
My favorite Valentine’s Day memories were the card exchanges in elementary school. It didn’t really matter who the cards were fun – it was fun to trade them, to look at them all. Until recently, I had kept every single Valentine’s Day card I had ever received in a giant ziploc bag (think seven years of exchanges, plus four years volunteering in a kindergarten classroom. That’s ten years’ worth of cards!) A couple years ago, I decided to put them all in a scrapbook, and reading back through them all, they made me smile. Where the setting of romantic love is an awesome thing to have for one day of the year (definitely spending some time with the Bear today), it’s a nice time just tobe nice to people. Not just your loved ones, but your friends, and strangers, and your enemies, even.
I hate the Hallmark-ised spend-more-money aspect of Valentine’s Day (and Easter, and Saint Patrick’s Day, and Christmas), but when you stop and think about the ideas of love, sacrifice, and friendship behind the holiday… it is pretty nice after all.