Valentine's Day brings out the romantic and the cynical. Yesterday there was much debate on whether the holiday was manufactured by Hallmark. The answer is no, but the true origins of Valentine's Day are a little harder to pin down.
February 14 is the feast day of St. Valentine, patron saint of love, engaged couples and happy marriages. Valentine was the name of several early Christian martyrs and the feast day was establshed in 496AD though it is unclear which martyr was being honored. Later scholars theorized that the intent was to supersede the pagan holiday of Lupercalia, a fertility festival.
The first written reference to Valentine's Day may be Geoffrey Chaucer's Parlement of Foules (1382), penned to honor the first anniversary of the engagement of King Richard II of England to Anne of Bohemia. They were both 13-14 years old at the time. The Medieval cult of courtly love picked up the tradition of exchanging verses or words of love in mid-February. Symbols of the day are hearts, flowers and cupids.
It wasn't until Victorian times that handwritten notes were replaced by commercial cards. In the 20th century, Valentine's Day has become big business, and woe betide the man who forgets his sweetheart on February 14th, much to the delight of the floral, candy and greeting card industries.
This year my Valentine's Day gift was a piece of carrot cake with a red icing heart on top. Not the most romantic gift, perhaps, but quite delicious.
How are you celebrating today?