Hate it, love it or feel merely ‘meh’ about the whole thing it’s impossible to ignore. I refer of course to Valentine’s Day. So here we are with a brief Valentine’s Day History.

A brief Valentine's Day History
A brief Valentine’s Day History

All you need is love. But a little chocolate now and then doesn’t hurt.

Charles SchultzA brief Valentine’s Day History

As this website, The Dark Origins of Valentine’s Day, points out the origins of our modern-day smooch-fest are darker, bloodier and much more muddled than you might suppose. So something of a Valentine’s Day massacre if you will.

It would seem there’s a lot more to it than the bit of the story most of us are familiar with. By which I mean Pope Claudius III giving the thumbs down to two young men both named Valentine – at different points in the 3rd Century.

It was the honouring of their martyrdom by the Catholic Church that gave us the celebration of St Valentine’s Day.

However, the path to the cynical commercialization of the festival that we know and *coughs* – love today probably begins, as does many a good festival or tradition, with Ancient Rome. In this instance it’s the feast of Lupercalia, that ran from Feb 13 to Feb 15 that you have to blame/thank – delete as applicable.

This being the Romans you won’t be at all surprised to know that this feast involved sacrificing animals, nakedness, drunkenness and flagellation. Sounds like fun huh?

The waters became muddied even more in the 5th Century when a Pope with a name that sounds like an ice-cream – Gelasius –  combined St Valentine’s Day with Lupercalia in an effort to stamp out the earlier pagan rituals.

Confused? You will be. At around the same time, the Normans celebrated Galantine’s Day. Being as how ‘Galatin’ meant lover of women and sounded similar to Valentine it’s likely the two became intertwined.

Galantine’s Day

On the subject of Galantine:  In recent years it’s become popular to celebrate Gelantine’s Day on the 13th February.

According to The Telegraph: ‘Television show “Parks & Recreation” popularised the idea of Galentine’s day, which happens the day before Valentine’s day.  The reason being that ‘Romantic partners often come and go, but best friends outstay all of them.. ‘ True enough I’d say!

Shakespeare in Love

The romantic notions we now associate with the festival gained traction from Chaucer and Shakespeare both of whom did much to romanticize it. As a result of their literary efforts Valentine’s Day became more popular throughout Britain and the rest of Europe.

At least Shakespeare’s outpourings covered all aspects of love. There was the silver-tongued, honey-glazed stuff yes. But there was also the Lover’s Complaint:

From off a hill whose concave womb reworded
A plaintful story from a sist’ring vale,
My spirits t’attend this double voice accorded,
And down I laid to list the sad-tuned tale,
Ere long espied a fickle maid full pale,
Tearing of papers, breaking rings atwain,
Storming her world with sorrow’s wind and rain.   
(NB: Found here: http://www.shakespeares-sonnets.com)

Along with the English settlers the tradition eventually crossed the Atlantic to the New World. Here the 19th Century industrial revolution made mass-produced cards possible and Hallmark Cards of Kansas City were not slow to spot an opportunity. And the rest you know.

The Willow Pattern story

Unrelated to the mythology of Valentine’s Day, but worthy of mention while we’re on the topic is another story of romance and tragedy – this time from the Far East. Or so I thought. Incorrectly as it turns out.

In actual fact this most romantic of fables is English in origin and is nothing more than a clever advertising gimmick. It was created to promote Thomas Minton’s Willow Pattern china sometime around 1790. Read more about that here.

For a charming telling of the tale behind the Willow Pattern check out this little YouTube film:

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