Geek Trivia: Valentine's daze

What historic writer invented the notion of St. Valentine's Day as a romantic holiday centuries ago -- though on a different date than the modern traditional observance on February 14?

Attention, persons involved in romantic relationships, you are fast approaching the inescapable event horizon of the social singularity known as Valentine's Day, during which most members of the Anglophone world are required to purchase tokens of devotion for their significant others. Do not resist; there is no escape. Such is the way of the universe.

Well, at least since 1847, when 19-year-old entrepreneur Esther Howland began mass-producing formal Valentine's Day cards in Worcester, MA. Thus -- by many accounts -- was born the wide-scale commercialization of Valentine's Day as a romantic holiday observed by the general public, as opposed to a more rarified pastime of the affluent classes, who could afford to indulge in making lace-paper cards by hand for their significant others.

Today, many cynics view Valentine's Day as a mere "Hallmark Holiday" -- an otherwise untraditional day of observance popularized by greeting card companies for the sake of profit. That's probably overstating the case, as St. Valentine's Day has been observed by Roman Catholics for centuries -- though the occasion wasn't always associated with romantic love, to say nothing of hearts, flowers, and candies.

In fact, there are actually several recognized Catholic martyrs named Valentine. Until 1969, 11 of them had recognized days of remembrance on the liturgical calendar. Since 1969, the church has streamlined its observances, and only two St. Valentines remain of the list.

February 14 honors the pair simultaneously. We know surprisingly little of either Valentine of Rome or Valentine of Terni, save that they were both martyrs -- in 269 A.D. and 197 A.D., respectively.

These two saints certainly weren't symbols of romantic love -- at least not according to any legitimate historical accounts. However, a fair number of inaccurate legends purport to frame these two saints as romantic icons. These legends are almost entirely fiction, many of them conjured up by one of the most famous and influential writers in the history of the English language.

It's this author who, for all intents and purposes, invented the notion of a romantic St. Valentine's Day centuries ago. Ironically, however, he wasn't writing about either of the Valentines honored on February 14.


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By Jay Garmon

Jay Garmon has a vast and terrifying knowledge of all things obscure, obtuse, and irrelevant. One day, he hopes to write science fiction, but for now he'll settle for something stranger -- amusing and abusing IT pros. Read his full profile. You can a...