Valentine’s Day Realities: Beheadings and Romantic Failure
The sordid origins and costly truths about this counterproductive affair with love
Before you express your undying love to someone Feb. 14, you should know that if divorce records are any indication, Valentine’s Day is just about the worst day to say the words “be mine.” The documented romantic failures of the day perhaps owe to its grisly history. This popular holiday (in which nobody gets an actual holiday!) originated as a celebration of the decapitation of a third-century Christian martyr, or perhaps two of them. History is not clear on this. There were many Valentines, miracle workers and martyrs all. What is clear is that none of the Valentines were Cupids.
The main apparent miracle-working martyr in stories passed down through the ages — the supposed real St. Valentine — was no romantic, Lisa Bitel, PhD, a USC professor of history and religion, explains in The Conversation. It would be more than a thousand years after his beheading before Feb. 14 came to mark love instead of death, betrothings instead of beheadings, Bitel writes.
If you read various tellings of the age-old tale, you’ll find dubious references to sacrificed goats and dogs, and half-naked men streaking through Rome. Valentine’s Day has meant different things to different cultures over time.
Finally, around 1390, The Canterbury Tales author Geoffrey Chaucer wrote a poem that linked what had become the February “feast of St. Valentinus” to the mating season of birds, and propelled the legendary St. Valentine from mere martyrdom and miracles to a man with a big heart. However, it’s not even clear which Valentine Chaucer was even referring to. Regardless, before long, European noblemen and aristocrats were sending love notes to their romantic partners on Feb. 14.
Clearly they didn’t fully grasp the grisly history of the holiday nor foresee the marital warning signs since documented. And they could not have envisioned the $14 billion modern-day Americans would plunk down in an arguably fruitless effort to please or appease that special someone on this notoriously mismatched day.
Let’s look at how this morbid day came to trumpet love, and how much people will spend expressing said love on Feb. 14 and, finally, why you could call Valentine’s Day the Super Bowl of divorce.