Every florist will tell you that their briskest trade is on and around 14th of February. If you look at Google Insights, a tool that maps search trends for certain terms, those terms related to the flower trade are 200% more common come February. So, what has the martyrdom of a 3rd century Roman priest to do with romantic love and why do we celebrate his death with the gift of flowers and chocolates? The answer is a combination of chance events.
The most commonly believed story is that of a Roman priest called Valentine who secretly married soldiers to their sweet-hearts against the will of the emperor. He was subsequently put to death, but not before he wrote a note to his own sweet-heart signed “Your Valentine.” This story, while romantic, is undoubtedly apocryphal, but there may be a kernel of truth.
The Catholic Church recognises numerous martyrs called Valentine. Under 14th of February a saint named Valentine is listed as martyred in Africa. By coincidence the Ancient Romans celebrated a fertility festival known as Lupercalia between 13 and 15 February. It is quite likely that in an effort to Christianise Lupercalia the Church set a commemorative feast on that date – the feast of St.Valentine.
However, while fertility and Valentine were now linked there appears to be no reference to romantic love or sentiment until the 14th Century when Geoffrey Chaucer, in a Parlement of Foules,
“For this was on seynt Volantynys day Whan euery bryd comyth there to chese his make.”
What is certain, given the time of year that birds in the Nothern Hemisphere mate, is that Chaucer wasn’t referring to our Valentine, however, it seems to have stuck. Valentine’s Day is mentioned by Charles d’Orléans in a letter sent from the Tower of London in 1415 and by Shakespeare in Hamlet in 1600.
By the late 18th Century the practice of sending a Valentine among the more leisurely classes was well established and by the mid-19th Century the first mass produced paper Valentines were being made. The modern popularity of Valentine’s Day has seen estimates of 1 billion Valentines sent each year world-wide and, since the mid-20th Century the gift of flowers, chocolates and cards between lovers.