Valentine's Day has often been touted as a holiday “made up” by the card industry. But after a little research, I don't think its origin is really so corporate and sinister...
With chocolates to buy and sweets to give, the sharing of edible delights is a not-so-subtle connection to the lust and passion behind the original holiday itself.
So... people give heart-shaped valentines and candies today, but when did this whole thing start?
Chaucer is sometimes credited with spurring the event of the Valentine's Day holiday (particularly cards and gifts), referencing a “seynt Volantynys day” in Parlement of Foules. Most scholars believe that's a misinterpretation of the verse though.
Some believe that the Church holiday and the Feast of St. Valentine has its origins in the festival of Lupercalia. There's the obvious connection with the time of annual occurrence, especially considering the current date of St. Valentine's Day festivities and the traditions of the festival.
Here's one of my favorite parts of the history: a legend exists connecting the romance to St. Valentine himself. In an effort to combat a ban on marriage, St. Valentine would wed couples in secret by night. His name has since been associated with romance and passion. <3
Upon examining the traditions of the Lupercalia festival, more connections can be seen. Lupercalia is an ancient pastoral festival of fertility, and was known for nudity and drunken revelry. Woo!
Scholars have debated on the origins of Lupercalia, the subsequent establishment of holidays by the church, and the modern holiday currently celebrated. But the way I see it, it's a pretty obvious timeline. Drunken revelry and fertility > scandalous, secret marriage > candy and chocolates > more drunken revelry.
One might best be served by leaving Chaucer and Hallmark out of the equation - just eat some chocolate and be happy and naked.
Fun Reading / References
Chaucer, Geoffrey. Complete Works Of Geoffrey Chaucer. Brousson Press, 2008.
Crow, Thomas. Modern Art in the Common Culture. Yale University Press, 1996.
Finkelstein, Joanne. The Art of Self Invention: Image and Identity in Popular Visual Culture. I.B.Taurus, 2007.
Garoian, Charles R. & Gaudelius Yvonne. Spectacle Pedagogy. Arts, Politics, and Visual Culture. State University of New York Press, 2008.
Henn, Earl L. The Cross: Christian Banner or Pagan Relic? Forerunner, 1996 <http://bibletools.org/index.cfm/fuseaction/Library.sr/CT/ARTB/k/471/Cross-Christian-Banner-Pagan-Relic.htm>
Mirzoeff, Nicholas. An Introduction to Visual Culture. Routledge, 2000.
Mitchell, W. J. T. What Do Pictures Want?: The Lives and Loves of Images. University Of Chicago Press, 2005.
Mott, Maryann. Ritual Cat Sacrifices a Halloween Myth, Experts Say. National Geographic News, 2007. <http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2007/10/071026-halloween-cat.html>
National Retail Federation Annual Report, 2007. <http://www.nrf.com/>
Saft, James. Happy holidays? Not for the U.S. consumer. Reuters, 2007. <http://www.iht.com/articles/2007/12/12/business/1115safthols.php>