valentine

We associate February 14 with romantic love. Valentine’s Day is a day for sweethearts. But who was St. Valentine and why is he associated with lovers? It appears that Valentine’s Day is the invention of one man: Geoffrey Chaucer.

In this poem The Parliament of Fowls, written c. 1381, Chaucer writes (lines 309–310):

For this was on Seynt Valentynes day,
Whan every foul cometh there to chese his make.1

(For this was Saint Valentine’s day,
When every fowl comes there to choose his mate.)

Some believe that this poem was written to commemorate the wedding of Richard II to Anne of Bohemia. The agreement arranging the marriage was signed on 2 May 1381, which is the feast day of St. Valentine of Genoa. But whether or not Chaucer wrote the poem for this occasion has not been firmly established.2

There is no known association between Valentine and romantic love before Chaucer penned this poem, but it quickly became a tradition afterward for young people to draw lots on the day to choose a special someone, special for that day at least. The first recorded use of valentine to refer to such a person appears by 1450. And by 1553 the word was being applied to the piece of paper on which that person’s name was written and drawn by chance. By around 1610, valentine was being used to mean a gift given to a lover on that day.3

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