Valentine’s Day is an odd holiday

Wednesday, February 14th, 2024

As I’ve noted before, Valentine’s Day is an odd holiday. Saint Valentine is the name of fourteen different martyred saints — and the one whose feast falls on February 14? We don’t know anything about him, beyond his name, except that he was born on April 16 and died on February 14. And he was removed from the Catholic calendar of saints in 1969.

In fact, it doesn’t look like Saint Valentine was associated with romantic love at all until Geoffrey Chaucer wrote Parliament of Fowls in 1382 in honor of the first anniversary of the engagement of King Richard II of England to Anne of Bohemia:

For this was Saint Valentine’s Day,
When every bird cometh there to choose his mate.

And that reference probably was not to February 14 — mid-February is an unlikely time for birds to be mating in England — and Chaucer appears to be making up a fictional tradition that never existed.

The notion caught on though, and we see it mentioned in Shakespeare’s Hamlet and John Donne’s Epithalamion a couple hundred years later.

Around that time Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queene gave us a rhyme that should sound familiar:

She bath’d with roses red, and violets blew,
And all the sweetest flowres, that in the forrest grew.

It inspired the modern cliche Valentine’s Day poem, which appeared in Gammer Gurton’s Garland in 1784:

The rose is red, the violet’s blue,
The honey’s sweet, and so are you.
Thou art my love and I am thine;
I drew thee to my Valentine:
The lot was cast and then I drew,
And Fortune said it shou’d be you.


  1. Bob Sykes says:

    This year it is also Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent.

  2. Gaikokumaniakku says:

    On every Valentine’s Day, spare a thought for the thots: Digital Purdah as a Solution to Female Internet Brain.

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