Monday, February 14, 2011


Today, February the 14th, is a day many of us celebrate romantic love. Of course, we can go on about how greeting card companies are just making up holidays to justify their own existence (and make some money), but thankfully, it seems Valentine's day as a day of romance goes back a little further than Hallmark.

According to Jack Oruch of the University of Kansas, the association of romance with Valentine's Day began with Chaucer. In Parlement of Foules (1382) Chaucer wrote:

"For this was on seynt Volantynys day
Whan euery bryd comyth there to chese his make."

The trouble is... birds don't often mate in England in February, so people associate this reference to Valentine's day with the other, other Valentine (there were apparently four saints of the same name) who was remembered on the second of May.

The first record of a love note associated with at least one of the saints was written by Charles the Duke of Orleans while he was held captive by the British in the 15th century:

Je suis desja d'amour tanné,
Ma tres doulce Valentinée, Nat
Car pour moi fustes trop tart née,
Et moy pour vous fus trop tost né.
Dieu lui pardoint qui estrené
M'a de vous, pour toute l'année.
Je suis desja, etc. Ma tres doulce, etc.

 Bien m'estoye suspeconné,
Qu'auroye telle destinée,
Ains que passast ceste journée,
Combien qu'Amours l'eust ordonné.
Je suis desja, etc.

Which reads:
I am already sick of love,
My very gentle Valentine,
Since for me you were born too soon,
And I for you was born too late.
God forgives he who has estranged
Me from you for the whole year.
I am already, etc. My very gentle, etc.

Well might I have suspected,
That such a destiny,
Thus would have happened this day,
How much that Love would have commanded.
I am already, etc.

How February the 14th became the day for love is a bit of a mystery. But who better to turn to for an explanation of all things 'love' than the catholic church? This is their official line:

"Though the memorial of Saint Valentine is ancient, it is left to particular calendars, since, apart from his name, nothing is known of Saint Valentine except that he was buried on the Via Flaminia on February 14."

Romantic, I know! They probably dug up something unsavory about the ol' saint; he was subsequently removed from the General Roman Calendar  in 1969.

In any case, were stuck with the modern commercialized Hallmark holiday, which lives on perhaps because it gives us an excuse to not be romantic on other days (though we may as well celebrate on May 2nd), or maybe just because everyone secretly loves those gross little candies:

Be mine, babe.

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