So now that you have read about St. Valentine in our previous blog, how did we go from his story to having the secular holiday of Valentine’s Day?
Despite the heart shapes and the note for Julia, Asterius’ daughter, St. Valentine’s day was not associated with romantic love until centuries later. It was in the 14th century that Geoffrey Chaucer associated the day with romantic love in his poem “Parlement of foules”. The poem was written to commemorate the first anniversary of King Richard II’s engagement to Anne of Bohemia on 3 May, 1381.
For this was on Seynt Valentynes day,
Whan every foul cometh ther to chese his make,
Of every kinde, that men thynke may;
And that so huge a noyse gan they make,
That erthe and see, and tree, and every lake
So ful was, that unnethe was ther space
For me to stonde, so ful was al the place. (Chaucer, 1871)
For this was on Saint Valentine’s Day,
When ever bird comes to choose his mate,
Of every kind that men think may
And then so huge a crowd did they make,
That earth and sea, and tree, and every lake
Was so full, that there was scarcely space
For me to stand, so full was all the place. (Translation, by Galen, 2019)
Because of the timing of the publication of the poem (roughly around the 3rd of May), there is much debate as to whether or not it was referencing Valentine’s day as we know it. Some scholars argue that on the Julian Calendar, which predated the Gregorian Calendar we use now, St. Valentine’s Day fell closer to spring.. Others argue that Chaucer was not referring to the St. Valentine honored on the 14th of February but other St. Valentine’s who were honored on 3rd of May.
In any case, Chaucer’s time was the era of courtly love. Often manifested as tragic love stories between people who could not marry for a variety of reasons. Several other poets included the theme of mating birds on St. Valentine’s day, though Chaucer is considered the first to do so.
This relationship between St. Valentine’s Day and romance was solidified in the the late 18th and early 19th centuries in Britain.
The now familiar nursery rhyme, “the rose is red, the violet is blue” was first published in a 1784 compilation. In 1797, The Young Man’s Valentine Writer was published. It was designed to provide poetry for men who couldn’t write their own verses to send to their loved ones. By 1835, Valentine’s Day cards were popular despite the expense of postage at the time. When the cost was reduced in 1840 in Britain, it made the practice more affordable and the number of cards sent increased significantly. Thus with such popularity, the industry manufacturing Valentine’s day cards was born. In 1868, Cadbury produced decorated chocolate boxes in the shapes of hearts to give as gifts on Valentine’s Day. This solidly launched the giving of chocolates as a popular practice.
Celebrated around the world, Valentine’s Day is a Global Holiday.
While St. Valentine’s Day and its associated traditions of cards, chocolates, and other gifts began as a British tradition, it is now a holiday commonly practiced in various forms around the world, especially throughout Europe and the United States. In many Latin American countries, it is a celebration of friendship and familial love as well as romantic love. Some Latin American countries celebrate with an amigo secreto or secrete friend, a practice similar to secret Santa in the United States. Because St. Valentine’s Day falls on or near Carnival, an important pre-Lent celebration, some Latin American countries like Brazil and Columbia celebrate love at other times of the year instead.
Celebrations are not limited to Christian countries.
Because of globalization in the form of trade and exposure to Western media in the form of movies, music, and television, many non-Christian countries celebrate it as a secular holiday. In India, for example, it didn’t catch on until 1992. Social mores regarding displays of public affection relaxed finally relaxed and it gained popularity.
Because of its association with Christianity, St. Valentine’s Day is illegal in a number of Muslim countries, at least for Muslims, such as in Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Malaysia, yet despite that it is increasingly popular and has resulted in a black market for red roses and Valentine’s Day cards in those countries.
In Asia, the holiday is extremely popular. It was introduced to Japan in 1936 by a cake and confectionary company, Morozoff Ltd. owned by Dmitrievich Morozoff, a Russian immigrant. Originally, Morozofff marketed chocolates toward foreigners in the country. By 1953 it broadened to include the Japanese as well, and other companies soon followed suit. In Japan, Valentine’s Day is a day for women to give chocolate to men, however, including co workers and fellow students, as well as female friends. The quality of the chocolate varied on the closeness of the relationship.
In the 1980s, the Japanese National Confectionary Industry Association successfully launched a campaign to make 14 of March as White Day (shortened from Ai ni Kotaeru White Day, or Answer Love on White Day), a day when men respond to the chocolate gifts they received from women with white chocolate and other gifts. These gifts were expected to be of higher value than the chocolate. This practice of Valentine’s Day and especially White Day has since spread to other Asian countries, most notably China and South Korea.
Taiwan also celebrates both white Day and Valentine’s Day, though in Taiwan the genders are reversed so that men give chocolates on Valentines’ Day and women respond on White Day.
It is fascinating to us, after all of this research into Valentine’s Day, to discover just how secular and wide spread the holiday is across the globe. What was once a very small instance, that of giving a heart shaped note to a married soldier, has now become one of the most internationally celebrated holidays in the world. We hope that you have a wonderful holiday and give our thanks and love to you for your support and interest in our Research Journey.
RoseAnna & Galen
The Researcher’s Gateway