Documenting the Coming Singularity

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Who Invented Valentine's Day?

Many of us might suspect the greeting card industry of this one. They certainly profit from it, but they didn't invent it. Like many traditions of old, the origins of Valentine's Day are hazy at best. Several ancient saints vie for the honor of being the honoree of the day of love, but the one who is most likely the winner is Saint Valentinius (c. 100 - c. 150) of Alexandria. It seems that Valentinius became associated with romantic love due to his emphasis on the marriage bed as possessing a central place in Christian love.

Valentine's Day makes its next appearance in the Middle Ages, particularly during the period when courtly love was in vogue. In Paris, on February 14, 1400, a High Court of Love was established to deal with contractual disputes about love, betrayals and the abuse of women. It is said that judges were selected by women on the basis of poetry readings.

We have Esther Howland (1828-1904) of Worcester, Massachusetts to thank for the first mass produced Valentine's Day cards in North America. Contratulations and a big thank you to Esther! Various marketing efforts since then have made V Day a very big day for greeting cards, flowers and chocolates. You may be interested to know that in Japan, women are expected to give men candy, chocolates or flowers, and not just men they like, either. In many Japanese offices, women feel obligated to buy gifts for all the men who work there. Wow!

I hope you've learned something. Now, if you still haven't got flowers or chocolate for that special person, head on over to Barry's Best, where you'll find some helpful links. Hurry!


Anonymous said...

Hey Uncle Barry,

Here's an interesting bit of trivia. The first time Valentine's Day was given a romantic connotation was in Geoffrey Chaucer's "The Parliament of Fowls." This is one of his dream visions and is composed of roughly 700 lines of poetry. Give it a whirl if you feel like plodding your way through Middle English. I'm sure there are some good modern english translations out there as well.


Barry Mahfood said...


Thanks for the tip! I need to read poetry to improve my writing style. I'll check out your suggestion.