Valentine’s Day – it’s sheer poetry!
It’s that time of year when lovebirds everywhere exchange cards and gifts and enjoy a romantic candlelit dinner for two.
But why do we celebrate Valentine’s Day each year? What’s so romantic about 14 February? And who is Saint Valentine, anyway? Let’s tackle that tricky last question first.
It seems there were lots of sainted Valentines in Rome in the 3rd century. Some were said to perform secret weddings that went against the wishes of the authorities – and most of them met a sticky end.
Others were martyred simply because they administered to persecuted Christians. Legend has it that one of these priests was martyred on 14 February 269 and became known as Saint Valentine, giving rise to the Feast of St Valentine in the Christian calendar.
That’s one explanation of St Valentine. Here’s another …
In some folk traditions in Europe, St Valentine’s Day is when people celebrate the start of the new growing season in the fields and vineyards. In these cultures, Saint Valentine is the saint that of Spring and good health.
So much for the origins then, but where does the romance come into it?
Historians believe that we have the 14th century poet Geoffrey Chaucer to thank for first connecting St Valentine’s Day with romantic love. His poem, Parlement of Foules (Parliament of Fowls), describes the gathering of birds on “seynt valentynes day” to choose their mates for the year.
The poem is a humorous and philosophical exploration of love. In the end the birds can’t decide on their mates and put the decision off until the next year.
More than 200 years later, in Hamlet, Shakespeare also makes a romantic connection, in Ophelia’s song:
“Tomorrow is Saint Valentine’s day,
All in the morning betime,
And I a maid at your window,
To be your Valentine.”
So, whatever the true origins of Valentine’s Day, these two giants of English literature probably did more than anyone to popularise it among the wider population as a day for romance. Good for them.
Wishing a very happy Valentine’s Day to all of you lovebirds – and to those who are taking a leaf out of Chaucer’s birds!