Valentine's Day

The Most Widely Believed Valentine's Day Myths & Legends 

Mike Rothschild
Updated June 19, 2020 698 votes 199 voters 27.4k views 14 items

List Rules Upvote the most fascinating, but likely untrue, myths about Valentine's Day.

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.
Chocolate Is the Ultimate Aphrodisiac
Chocolate Is the Ultimat... is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list The Most Widely Believed Valentine's Day Myths & Legends
Photo:  LongitudeLatitude/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

Chocolate has been a traditional Valentine’s Day staple since sometime after the 15th Century Aztecs made it an aphrodisiac. And indeed, some kinds of chocolate contain two chemicals found in people who are either aroused or in love. One is tryptophan, which is an element of serotonin. The other is phenylethylamine, a stimulant released in the brain when people fall in love.

But neither chemical appears in high enough quantities in the average box of chocolates to have much of an effect. You’d probably have to eat enough to get a stomachache, which is decidedly unsexy.
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St. Valentine's Day Started as a Roman Feast Called Lupercalia
St. Valentine's Day Star... is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list The Most Widely Believed Valentine's Day Myths & Legends
Photo: Circle of Adam Elsheimer/Wikimedia Commons/Public domain

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.

Though Lupercalia and Valentine’s Day might indeed be linked, it’s not clear how, and the fact that they take place on the same day is probably coincidence. It’s more likely that Lupercalia spawned some of the rituals of the modern Mardi Gras celebration.
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Valentine's Day Started as a Holiday for Lovers
Valentine's Day Started ... is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list The Most Widely Believed Valentine's Day Myths & Legends
Photo:  British Library/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

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.
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We Know A Lot About the Life of St. Valentine
We Know A Lot About the ... is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list The Most Widely Believed Valentine's Day Myths & Legends
Photo: Leonhard Beck/Wikimedia Commons/Public domain

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.

One legend of St. Valentine is that he was arrested and beheaded for marrying Christian couples or Roman soldiers to Christians. Another is that the earlier Valentine was imprisoned for refusing to convert to Paganism, and through his prison prayers, he healed the jailer's blind daughter. On the day of his execution he supposedly left her a note that was signed “Your Valentine" – which was the first Valentine’s Day card. No evidence exists to support these or any of the other legends associated with St. Valentine, or even confirm when they might have occurred.
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