A love letter to a history nerd

Most people when asked about Valentine’s Day will refer to chocolates, flowers, cards and general romantic endeavours, however does anyone actually really know where Valentine’s Day came from?

Depending on how far back you want to go with this it is believed that Valentine’s Day, not as a romantic holiday, was something celebrated even in the pre-Christian era. In ancient Rome the 13th, 14th and 15th of February were the pagan fertility festival of Lupercalia. According to a classics professor from Colorado young men would strip naked and whip young women in order to improve their fertility…*waits for the floods of fifty shades of grey jokes*.

However the day, apparently, really got its name from a number of Saint Valentines’. One Valentine was a martyred Christian and although not much was known about his life it was documented that he died on February 14th.
Another martyred Christian by the name of Valentine was said to have been jailed for aiding prisoners of Rome and whilst in prison healed the blind daughter of one of his jailers. He is later said to have fallen in love with the daughter and would send her notes saying “From your Valentine”, however the authenticity of this story leaves much to be desired. He was also known for apparently secretly carrying out marriages for soldiers banned from marriage. He is, like his previous namesake, supposed to have died on February 14th but again the authenticity of this fact is rather implausible.

Valentine’s Day in accordance of love is said to have many beginnings whether it be that in 1400 a court in Paris was opened on St Valentine’s Day to deal with matters of the heart (marriage contracts, divorces, infidelity and beaten spouses…you know…the lovey-dovey stuff). There are also ties to Shakespeare, of course, with Ophelia’s lament to in Hamlet which goes “To-morrow is Saint Valentine’s Day, all the in the morning bedtime, and I a maid at your window, to be your valentine”

Valentine’s Day as a holiday was actually first mentioned by Chaucer around 1382. During this era in history forbidden courtly love became very popular and this period saw rises in knights presenting their maidens with roses and poetic songs. See where I’m going with this? However if your more a chocolate girl (or guy) your were out of look at this time as sugar was still a precious substance so sweet food was not really part of the picture here.

So how did chocolate come into the picture I hear you ask? Back in the 1840’s the Victorians really began to celebrate the idea of showering their loved ones with gifts and cards and a candy salesman by the name of Richard Cadbury (hint hint) came up with the idea of heart shaped decorated boxes of chocolate to be marketed as gifts for Valentine’s Day.

Of course like most holidays, if you wish to get cynical about things, Valentine’s Day does have a dark history on one particular event named the St Valentine’s Day Massacre whereby five Chicago gangsters murdered several people with machine guns at the command of Mr Al Capone. But in the nature of good fun I shall not divulge this information in the greatest of detail.

But whether you’re cynical or not the idea, Valentine’s Day dates back pretty much as far back as you can go. Who knows where it REALLY started or what it really means so my advice? You do Valentine’s Day how you wish: with friends, loved ones, alone, with your cat! As long as you use this as a day for happiness of whatever kind then I’m okay with it!

Rachael Atkinson Millmoor