Everyone associates Valentine’s Day with one thing and one thing only: love.
Not just love, romantic love.
As far as the modern world is concerned, Valentine’s day is the day to spend all your money on tacky gifts or take your loved on out for a nice meal.
And there are pink hearts everywhere. You can’t hide from the facts: Valentine’s Day is about love.
It wasn’t always, though.
St. Valentine’s day was once simply St. Valentine’s Day. Another saint’s day, no more romantic than the rest.
Oh, and another thing? It was on May the Third. So, if you’re a stickler for tradition, you should really go and buy a bunch of flowers for your partner/spouse/cat on the third of May.
What happened to change the day so much that it celebrates a different thing and on a different day?
Chaucer wrote a poem.
Chaucer was a popular poet; one of the few who wrote in the vernacular (i.e. in English, not French or Latin, which were used in literature after the Norman conquest), esquire to Edward III and Richard II. He was humorous, clever, readable… and very widely read. If you could read, you read Chaucer.
He wrote a poem called The Parliament of Fowls, which is the first known instance of Valentine’s Day being about love. The poem is about someone who falls asleep, and gets taken through a garden where he sees Cupid and some other Roman and Greek gods and lots of paintings of lovers. He then finds Lady Nature, who is trying to persuade her favourite female eagle to choose between three male eagles. The female decides to defer her decision to next year.
In the poem, Chaucer says ‘For this was on seynt Valentynes day, | Whan every foul cometh ther to chese his make’. This is the first known instance of Valentines day being about love or romance.
Kelly, the author of Chaucer and the Cult of Saint Valentine refuses to celebrate St. Valentine’s day on the fourteenth of February. Instead, on the third of May, he buys his wife flowers.
This is because, as a Chaucer know-it-all, he’s of the school of thought that the female eagle in The Parliament of Fowls represented Anne of Bohemia. Anne of Bohemia had three proposals, and she deferred her decision for a while. Her engagement to Richard II was announced on the third of May, which happened to be St. Valentine’s day – but was not about love yet.
On their one year anniversary, it’s thought that Chaucer was employed to write a poem for the occasion. He wrote The Parliament of Fowls.
He wanted to make it really romantic, so he headed to the books and found out that Saint Valentine of Genoa’s day was May the Third. So he made a connection between this saint and love in the poem.
The rest of Europe, however, hadn’t heard of Saint Valentine of Genoa. The had heard of Saint Valentine of Rome, however, and his day was the fourteenth of February. When the popularised idea that Saint Valentine’s Day and love reached them, they assumed it was the saint whose day was the fourteenth of February, and so the tradition grew from there.