Friday, February 12, 2010

St. Valentine's Day

(photo by DerHannes)

Today I was thinking about it and realized that i don't really know the history behind Valentine's day. So I've been doing a quick bit of research and reading and thought I might share with you. So keep in mind, this is just what i've read within the last hour - definitely not a deep search, but maybe just a little bit to get you thinking about the origins of this day.

St. Valentines Day is a day of feasting in remembering Priest(s) (for there are 3 priests recognized by the Catholic church that were martyred named "Valentine") that were martyred. One in particular is celebrated. He was imprisoned for aiding Christians during a time of Roman persecution against Christians under Claudius Gothicus (270ishAD) (though I've also read that he could have been performing marriage ceremonies to those that were not allowed to marry) . Valentine was brutally beaten and then beheaded.

I guess it wasn't until Geoffery Chaucer's "The Parlement of Foules" that people began to see St. Valentine's day as a day for love. Chaucer writes a story of  birds looking for mates ("love-birds") and this ritual just so happens to be on St. Valentine's Day. I pulled my good 'ol compilation of works by Chaucer from my lit classes and thought I would read it a bit:

"For this was on Seynt Valentynes day,
Whan every foul cometh there to chese his make,
Of every kynde that men thynke may,
And that so huge a noyse gan they make
That erthe, and eyr and tre, and every lake
So ful was taht unethe was there space
For me to stonde, so ful was al the place."
The Parlement of Foules 308-315

(photo by Ajatierra)

So then the people started celebrating romantic love on St. Valentine's Day instead of their faithful martyr (or perhaps if he was the one conducting marriage ceremonies for young lovers, he is still honored on this day?). And I guess that France and England's royal courts made a huge deal of it, with poem writing competitions where women were made the judges and a huge love-fest ensued. But I was reading through a an essay by Jean Jost on Chaucer's prose turning a religious holiday into a day to celebrate love and wooing, where she claims that "idealizing and therefore distancing of women perpetuates their social objectification and isolation under the guise of praise." (Jost, Subversive Poetics, p.55) Ha! I thought some of you would like that. 

And for those of you who think that Valentine's Day is just a huge scheme put together by the greeting card companies:
According to the Greeting Card Association, an estimated one billion valentine cards are sent each year, making Valentine's Day the second largest card-sending holiday of the year. (An estimated 2.6 billion cards are sent for Christmas.) Approximately 85 percent of all valentines are purchased by women. And the holiday brings in about 14 billion dollars annually. (

Wishing you and your loved one a happy valentine's day!


Brooke Hereth said...

That is so cool and interesting! I am so happy you did some research instead of lots of kisseys!

mariam said...

thats so interesting! i never actually knew how it came about,
cute blog
im new here!