Candy Hearts and Other Crap

The history of Valentine's Day

By Tom Huddleston Jr.

According to the U.S. Greeting Card Association, nearly 200 million Valentine’s Day cards will be exchanged this season. Such a statistic is sure to inspire warm thoughts of love and tenderness in the minds of about 200 million people, and a sack full of “Fuck that shit” from everyone else.

And, apparently, that figure does not even include classroom valentines and we all remember how many of those used to find their way into the construction paper, heart-shaped pouch taped to the edge of our desks. In those days you gave a valentine to everyone — girls, boys, even the smelly kid (you’re welcome, Derek Goodman) — because those cards were about as romantic as a Purple-Nurple (think Optimus Prime, holding a bouquet of flowers). But, as we age, we face the harsh reality that this holiday is not as inclusive as we were led to believe and we wonder why someone would create a holiday that puts a price tag on love, makes single people feel awful, and turns forgetful men into single men, thus making them feel pretty bad also.

But, as with the Civil War and Jersey Shore, it’s hard to pinpoint just one person to blame. The Oxford Dictionary of Saints lists two St. Valentines — one from Rome and one from Terni — as being martyred on February 14, but how that day became associated with a celebration of love is a matter of debate. According to one legend, St. Valentine of Rome was executed after secretly performing marriages for Roman soldiers after Emperor Claudius II had ordered all armored men to remain single. The emperor most likely believed that single men made better soldiers because they would be more apt to do something heroic in order to impress babes. Of course, the link between the holiday and love could also have been adapted from ancient pagan rituals that occurred in mid-February, such as the celebration of the marriage of Greek gods, Zeus and Hera, and a Roman fertility festival called Lupercalia.

But, even with all of that juicy religious history, there are more than a few poetry fans who put the credit for Valentine’s Day’s romantic association firmly in the resumé of everyone’s favorite Canterbury Tale-teller, Geoffrey Chaucer. The 14th Century English poet’s 1382 work, “The Parliament of Fowls,” contains a line about birds mating on Valentine’s Day to honor the anniversary of King Richard II. Historians now attribute the romantic nature of the holiday to that poem, which explains why the holiday’s haters can commonly be heard mumbling “Fuckin’ Chaucer” under their breath whenever a happy couple skips by.

Though the early history remains muddled, what is clear is that the early 1800s saw a rise in popularity for homemade valentines, and that soon led to the first mass-produced versions. And, now we’re left with the holiday’s more modern traditions, which include spending a ton of money on chalky hearts, Flavor of Love marathons, and those obnoxiously bitter articles written by people who probably only receive valentines that are signed “Love, Mom.”

(Thanks in advance, Mom!)

Images courtesy of and

Tom Huddleston Jr. is a regular web contributor to Jerk Explains it All