Amid the Hot and Heavy, A Look at History

A scholarly take on the day of candy and flowers

Unnamed photo
Sarah M Roberts

Janie Fredell, co-president of True Love Revolution, gives a presentation on the evolution of Valentine’s Day in the Winthrop Tonkins Room last night. Emily D. Donahue ‘09, Publicity Manager for the group, admitted that the presentation didn’t have much

The day of love is upon us, and the lives of many will be filled with chocolates, flowers, and sappy letters of affection. But under all the candy, cards, dinners—and, for some, diamonds—Valentine’s Day has a long history with roots in Catholicism and the father of English literature.

The Catholic Church has recognized over 10 St. Valentines throughout the ages, but the co-president of True Love Revolution (TLR) said that this day, February 14th, has particular importance.

“There were two main St. Valentines in the 3rd century, a bishop of Tirni and a priest in Rome, both martyred on February 14th, whom our modern Valentine’s Day is named after,” said TLR co-president Leo J. Keliher ’10.

TLR, dedicated to premarital sexual abstinence, held a “History of Valentine’s Day” presentation yesterday evening in Winthrop House.

Surprisingly, neither of the two St. Valentines had any connection to romance, according to Keliher. Valentine’s Day became associated with love some eleven centuries after the saint had died in a poem by Geoffrey Chaucer.

“Chaucer wrote the first poem in English celebrating Valentine’s Day and is the earliest writer we know of to associate the day with love and romance,” said English professor Nicholas J. Watson, who teaches a freshman seminar on the poet.

Chaucer’s fourteenth century poem “Parliament of Fowls,” explains “For this was on seynt Volantynys day / Whan euery bryd comyth there to chese [choose] his make [mate].”

The jump from bird breeding to human displays of affection for St. Valentine’s Day emerged sometime in the fifteenth century, according to Watson.

During this time, people first began to address each other as “Valentine” and send each other little gifts as tokens of their affection.

Since that era, the tradition of mailing cards to loved ones gradually spread to Britain and eventually to the United States in the 1840s. By the late 1850s, Americans were buying 3 million pre-made Valentine cards a year.

According to the Society of American Florists, 214 million roses are expected to be sold today,

But, according to Jane M. Fredell ’09, co-president of TLR, the most romantic days of the United States are in the past.

“The 1940s were definitely the most romantic decade because of many things,” Fredell said, “soldiers returning home from war, greater egalitarianism between men and women, and Frank Sinatra.”