Like all popular holidays, Valentine's Day has a host of myths, urban legends, and misconceptions, to go with a murky history, unclear origin, and a confusing mythology. Valentine's Day origins aren't well known, and even which "St. Valentine" the romantic holiday is named after isn't quite clear. But it does have roots in literature of the Middle Ages, as well as English courtly traditions going back to the 1800s.
But even English lovers in the Victorian era weren't spending the type of money that modern Americans spend on their true loves (or flings) on February 14. Valentine history is full of legends and widely believed theories that aren't actually based in fact. How did romance even get connected with St. Valentine? Again, it's not completely clear. And how much money do people really spend on Valentine's Day gifts anyway?These Valentines myths and legends about the Day for Lovers might surprise you, and you might find that what you thought you knew about the pink and red holiday known for hearts, Cupid, and Teddy bears isn't quite true. Vote up the Valentine's Day "facts" you were most surprised to learn aren't totally true and then order in some food for you and your sweetie - the real V-Day pros know that eating out on February 14 isn't romantic, it's a nightmare.
Valentine's Day Started as a Holiday for Lovers
It was not until the 14th century that this Christian feast day became definitively associated with love. It’s probably the medieval poet and Canterbury Tales author Geoffrey Chaucer who first linked St. Valentine's Day with romance, by way of a marriage poem. In 1381, Chaucer composed a poem to honor the engagement of England's Richard II and Anne of Bohemia.
As per tradition, Chaucer associated the occasion with a feast day – in this case, Valentine. And even then, Chaucer didn’t use people to tell his story – he used birds. He wrote in "The Parliament of Fowls”:For this was on St. Valentine's Day,
When every fowl cometh there to choose his mate.
St. Valentine's Day Is an Important Christian Holiday
It’s not that important, and it's not even a holiday. Instead, it’s one of many, many liturgical feast days on the Christian calendar, meant to commemorate various saints. In the case of February 14, the honors are for the martyrs Valentine of Rome and Valentine of Terni. Valentine of Rome was a priest killed around 500 CE, while Valentine of Terni was killed around 200 CE. There might have even been a third Valentine, an African saint martyred much later than the other two.
We Know A Lot About the Life of St. Valentine
We know about as much as we do about most other figures of early Christianity – which is to say, very little. Most of the stories commonly attributed to one or the other Valentines are squarely in the realm of myth, with nothing to confirm their veracity.
St. Valentine's Day Started as a Roman Feast Called Lupercalia
Lupercalia was an ancient Roman fertility rite observed from February 13–15. A form of purification and spring cleaning, it was designed to spike birth rates by having drunk men run around naked, hitting women who wanted to conceive. While popular during the heyday of the Roman Empire, it declined in popularity as Christianity arose, and it was banned by Pope Gelasius in the late 490s, folded into the concurrent Feast of Purification. No written evidence connects the modern Valentine’s Day with this rite, given that Valentine’s Day didn’t become connected with love or lovers until much later.