The origins of Valentine’s Day are murky. Best I can gather, it began in ancient Rome (as so many things do) as a fertility festival honoring Romulus and Remus, the raised-by-wolves founders of Rome.
Then Christianity came along and hijacked the festival (as it so often does) into the early version of the rose industry’s favorite holiday.
So who was Saint Valentine? Again, it’s murky. There are about a dozen recognized Catholic Saint Valentines. The most popular is probably St. Valentine of Terni, who was beheaded for secretly marrying young Christian couples in defiance of Emperor Claudius II. Old Claudius thought that young single men made more dedicated soldiers, and didn’t want those pesky wives interfering with his plan for world domination.
But my favorite story is that of Valentine, an imprisoned man who fell in love with his jailer’s daughter. (On second thought, this might be the plot of a romance novel I read in the early nineties, but either way, let’s continue.) So the doomed man wrote one final letter to his love and signed it, “From, your Valentine.”
Are you swooning?
Men have been trying to live up to Valentine’s romantically tragic gesture ever since.
Well, in addition to the Christians merging the celebration of St. Valentine with the pagan fertility festival, mid-February is the beginning of the mating season for birds, at least according to Geoffrey Chaucer (he of Canterbury Tales fame) who wrote about fowls choosing their mates in February.
And somehow, we got from beheaded priests, doomed lovers, and lusty birds to one of the world’s most reviled holidays.
Couples hate it because it is an opportunity for dramatically different expectations. One party wants to basically forget the whole thing, the other wants wine, roses, and dinner in a packed Italian restaurant.
And it’s even worse for the uncoupled. It’s one of the most well-tread movie tropes—the lonely single girl drowning her sorrows in red wine and systematically destroying a box of chocolate and a pint of ice cream in pajamas and fuzzy slippers. Or maniacally celebrating Galentiene’s Day, a Valentine’s Day alternative where women celebrate their female friendships. Galentine’s Day has its heart in the right place but just comes across as trying too hard.
So if you want to hate on Valentine’s Day, a Hallmark holiday if there ever was one, I won’t try to talk to you out of it.
But if you strip away the cliched roses, cards, and chocolates, there really is something quite lovely about a day dedicated to romantic love.
So this Valentine’s Day, boot Hallmark out of your holiday. If, like Chaucer’s birds, you’ve chosen your mate, let them know you love them, no fancy cards, chocolates, or roses required.
And if you’re ever on the way to the gallows, don’t forget to send them one final Valentine.