Many people’s hearts skip a beat as the month of February commences and the fateful 14th draws nearer, a day when the colour red creates an infestation among the living. The day is attached to the idea of romantic love and courtship, stemming from a a legend about Saint Valentine secretly marrying couples after a decree in Rome that banned marriage, and then dying on 14 February. The hopelessly romantic would be sad to learn that there was no such thing. Although there existed a few saints with the name Valentine, there are no historical records concerning the death of one of them on that day, nor of the secret tradition.
Yet the day remains, celebrated with an official feast in many churches. Some believe that the feast was created by the Christian church to overshadow a pagan celebration that took place during the period from 13 to 15 February, known as Lupercalia. However, there is no evidence to support this theory, save for the coinciding dates.
Realists can blame Geoffrey Chaucer for the creation of the frilly day. To commemorate the occasion of the engagement of King Richard the Second to Anne of Bohemia in 1381, he wrote a poem called Parlement of Foules (The Assembly of Fowls). Part of the poem reads:
“For this was on St Valentine’s Day, when every bird cometh there to choose his mate.”
That is the earliest record known of association of romantic love to Saint Valentine. Yet, Historians believe that Chaucer might have been referring to 3 May, the day when the liturgical calendar celebrated a Saint Valentine of Genoa. The treaty for the marriage of Richard and Anne was reportedly signed on 2 May.
Valentine’s Day has since been mentioned in many works of literature during the medieval and renaissance eras. One such example is Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Ophelia says in Act 5:
“To-morrow is Saint Valentine’s day,
All in the morning betime,
And I a maid at your window,
To be your Valentine.”
Appropriately enough, Ophelia sings these words when she goes insane after Hamlet murders her father. Her love for Hamlet, a self-obsessed psychopath, eventually leads her to suicide; a cautionary tale, for all the boys and girls out there.
The concept of flowers and chocolates were introduced in the 18th century, adding a monetary touch to the seemingly altruistic feast. Today, in a vegan-obsessed world, couples can also give each other boxes of fresh vegetables.