Out of all the holidays that we celebrate throughout the year, Valentine’s Day is the only day that people are openly acknowledge came about because of the murder of some poor individual. Poor Saint Valentine, murdered because he was not afraid to love. Personally, I find it a little creepy that we use somebody’s untimely death in order to have an excuse to give each other overpriced roses, chocolates and little paper cards. But hey, it’s all in good fun and who am I to protest a holiday based off of tragedy? What I do demand is full disclosure of facts. Who is this Valentine? What is this holiday that we celebrate around his murder? Why should I even care? Well, it turns out that the facts are a little more conspiratorial than we may have original thought, and in some cases we are being flat out deceived.
Saint Valentine was a saint around the beginning of the end of the Roman empire. During his time the awesomely named Claudius Gothicus (how is there not a punk rock band named this?) was ruling the empire and decided to exercise his imperial powers to abolish love. A decree was issued that no member of the Roman Legion was allowed to be married. St. Valentine was having none of the that. As a firm believer that the power of love conquers all, and with a few well lyric-ed ballads up his sleeve (I assume), our intrepid saint married as many legionnaires as he darn well pleased. Gothicus was outraged and locked St. Valentine away to await certain execution. During his imprisonment Valentine was able to charm the jailer’s daughter but to no avail. The order was carried out, and Valentine met his maker for the crime of believing that love would always find a way. How sweet!
Except that all of that is a lie. It’s a myth. It’s not true. There was a historical Valentine and a historical Emperor Claudius Gothicus, but no anti-love decree was ever issued. Valentine was executed, but for the decidedly un-romantic charge of trying to convert Gothicus to Christianity. In the Catholic calender Valentine was giving a day of remembrance for his brave acts of trying to convert the pagan emperor. Or was he? In a strange turn of events, three historical Catholic martyrs named Valentine were executed on February the 14th and records have never confirmed which one has the holiday named after him. We do not know if our current holiday comes from the Emperor-converting saint or some other random guy. Everybody just got lumped together as one holiday that for 1,000 years was just as romantic as any other stuffy Catholic remembrance day, like the day for St. Roch, patron saint of dogs.
Well ok, maybe the legend is a lie but the holiday has to come from somewhere right? It seems as though the first recorded connection of St. Valentine’s Day with romance comes from Geoffrey Chaucer who wrote about how the holiday is a time for birds to mate. This makes sense because in England mid-February is generally the mating season of birds. Although his writing is the most famous historical connection of Valentine’s to romance, this idea was also recorded by at least three other poets, all commenting on the mating habits of birds. The idea of Valentine’s Day being romantic stuck, meaning that essentially, Chaucer made the romantic background of the holiday up.
Seeing as Chaucer was the rock-star poet/author of the early middle ages, this idea caught on, eventually becoming a bona fide part of our culture. By the time of the Industrial Revolution the idea of the “Holiday of Love” was caught up by multiple companies trying to make a cheap buck. Countless companies since then have used the holiday to peddle candy, flowers and diamonds to the public who insist on celebrating this as the holiday of love. Need proof? Recent reports show that an average of 13.19 billion dollars is spent on Valentine’s Day, 196 million flowers are purchased, and 180 million cards are exchanged. Not bad for a holiday made from a legend, popularized by a Middle English poet, and used as a cash grab for countless companies. Sorry folks, no romantic murder here.