The Valentimes


“valentimes” by dayataglance is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

The Christian saints of 300 A.D. and 17-year-old popstar Olivia Rodrigo can agree on one thing: “It’s brutal out here.” The gushy and commercialized holiday that we call Valentine’s Day is so far from its Roman origins that I don’t even know where to begin. When I embarked on this journey to uncover the roots behind this torrid holiday, I did not expect what I found.

To start, we don’t even know exactly which St. Valentine is the namesake for the holiday. There were possibly three different saints all with a claim to fame, and according to Dr. James Todesca, these saints existed in a time facing strong religious persecution from the Roman Empire. Romantic, right?

Two of the three saints are rumored to have died on February 14th which is why we celebrate on that day. There is also a story that has made its way through the ages which reveals that one of the saints may have been responsible for sending the very first Valentine Card…to his cellmate. How letters between cellmates evolved into declarations of the heart is a mystery to me.

When it comes to the third Saint Valentine there is little information other than the likeness of a name, but he does add to the ambiguity surrounding the holiday. There was roughly a thousand-year gap until Valentine is mentioned again. This is the extent to which we know about the saints.

We have Geoffrey Chaucer to thank for the popularization of the holiday. He is the first to reference this holiday in his poem, “Parliament of Fouls,” which is about birds finding their mates. His poem goes “For this was on Saint Valentines day//Whan every brid cometh ther to chese his make.”

In layman’s terms: birds get lucky. So as you can see, not much has changed.

It seems that the brutal beginnings are fitting to the holiday. Every year is another reminder that love is hard to find and even harder to keep. Valentine’s Day is a glorified celebration of the agonies of the heart. But, just as the saints believed their cause worth fighting for, maybe love is worth every ounce of pain and heartbreak.