Even Educated Fleas Do It!

Fall in love, that is, according to Cole Porter’s Let’s Do It, Let’s Fall In Love song, which first hit the charts in 1928. There have been quite a few versions since then, usually with an adaptation of the original lyrics.

This Sunday is the “big” one for all romantics, and a day best avoided for those who do not like public displays of affection. Valentine’s Day, like many of the major celebratory days in the calendar, is a bit like Chinese whispers – it started out as one thing and ended up as another!

What was originally a three-day Lupercalia festival that celebrated fertility in pre-Christian Rome got mixed up with some Christian martyrs in the early ADs.

The origins of Valentine's Day can be traced back to a three-day Lupercalia festival that celebrated fertility in pre-Christian Rome

The origins of Valentine’s Day can be traced back to a three-day Lupercalia festival that celebrated fertility in pre-Christian Rome.

In AD 289 another Christian, who is known as Valentine of Rome was martyred – for the unforgivable sin of performing weddings for young soldiers who were forbidden to marry. While Valentine was sitting in jail, he kept himself busy by performing miracles and gave sight to his jailer’s blind daughter.

A romanticised image of the ill-fated couple

A romanticised image of the ill-fated couple.

Romantic souls added a little embellishment by saying that before his execution, the valiant and brave Valentine wrote a heart-felt farewell note to the newly sighted fair maiden and signed it “from your Valentine”. Nice story, but it seems a bit of a stretch and highly implausible that the newly sighted fair maiden was able to learn to read so quickly!

St Valentine was a holy priest in Rome, who, with St. Marius and his family, assisted the martyrs in the persecution under Claudius II

St Valentine was a holy priest in Rome, who, with St. Marius and his family, assisted the martyrs in the persecution under Claudius II.

Photo courtesy http://www.catholic.org

Circa AD 496, and those Romans are still enthusiastically celebrating the pagan fertility festival, and the Pope decides that he might increase his popularity by making the middle day of the festival – 14 February – a Christian feast day – naming it – you guessed it, St Valentine’s Day!

The ancient Romans enjoyed a good feast

The ancient Romans enjoyed a good feast.

The next major event occurs in 1382 when the father of English literature, Geoffrey Chaucer is said to be the first to make the connection between St Valentine’s Day and romantic love. Chaucer wrote about the engagement of Richard II of England to Anne of Bohemia, proclaiming it to be a day when “every fowl cometh there to choose his mate” (Chaucer’s words, not mine).

Geoffrey Chaucer's Valentine's Day message

Geoffrey Chaucer’s Valentine’s Day message.

Photo courtesy izquotes.com

Paris is well renowned as the city of love and in 1400 on St Valentine’s Day, a High Court of Love  opened which dealt with court cases of the heart: marriage contracts, divorces, infidelity, and beaten spouses  –  all got a fair hearing.

The quintessential French romantic Charles, the Duke of Orleans, writes the first recorded Valentine’s Day missive to his beloved who was locked up in the Tower of London after being captured at the Battle of Agincourt in 1415. I don’t know what he wrote, but let’s hope he didn’t copy Chaucer and say something about “fowls cometh”.

Charles, the Duke of Orleans is credited with writing the first Valentine

Charles, the Duke of Orleans is credited with writing the first Valentine.

Photo courtesy toromagazine.com

In 1691, the Bard gets in on the Valentine’s Day bandwagon and it gets a mention in Hamlet by the ill-fated Ophelia: “To-morrow is Saint Valentine’s day, All in the morning betime, And I a maid at your window, To be your Valentine.” These poetic words and some spectacular paintings of the beautiful but tragically doomed Ophelia ensure that Valentine’s Day enters the popular consciousness.

Shakespeare's tragically doomed Ophelia ensures that Valentine’s Day enters the popular consciousness

Shakespeare’s tragically doomed Ophelia ensures that Valentine’s Day enters the popular consciousness.

Photo courtesy http://www.pinterest.com

This starts a trend in England for passing love-notes, which is where the idea for the Valentine’s Day card came from. Ingenious and inventive lovers created personalised intricate works of art out of paper and lace to give to their beloveds.

But for those not so gifted with their hands or good at composing verse, The Young Man’s Valentine Writer was published in 1797. The burgeoning postal service and lower cost of posting letters helped lovelorn gents to send numerous anonymous Valentines.

"The Gentlemen's Valentine Writer" must have helped many a young man pen a love letter to his Valentine

“The Gentlemen’s Valentine Writer” must have helped many a young man pen a love letter to his Valentine.

The Industrial Revolution pretty much ensured that the production of Valentine’s Day cards become another commodity that could be mass-produced at the factories being set up in the early 19th century.

Factories meant that Valentine's Day cards could be mass produced

Factories meant that Valentine’s Day cards could be mass produced.

Photo courtesy via Photopin and Creative Commons

Across the Atlantic in 1847, those enterprising Americans also got into the act, discovering that they could make and sell Valentine’s Day cards at a much lower cost because of the cheaper paper lace readily available in the United States.

Valentine's Day cards become popular on both sides of the Atlantic

Valentine’s Day cards become popular on both sides of the Atlantic.

Photo courtesy via Photopin and Creative Commons

Cynics and non-romantics would mark 1913 as the year Valentine’s Day became part of the Hallmark Cards stable, which along with Mothers’ and Fathers’ Day, commercialised celebrations and encouraged people to spend money and buy cards with clichéd sentimental verses rather than take the time to express their true heartfelt feelings.

Cute cupids were popular on vintage Valentine's Day cards

Cute cupids were popular on vintage Valentine’s Day cards.

Photo courtesy via Photopin and Creative Commons

From the 1920s to the 1960s Valentine’s Day ticked along quite nicely.

Some delightfully kitsch images from the early 20th century Valentine's Day cards

Some delightfully kitsch images from the early 20th century Valentine’s Day cards.

Photo courtesy via Photopin and Creative Commons

It was a day when the lovesick could anonymously declare their undying passion to the men or women they desired.

Another quaint image used on Valentine's Day

Another quaint image used on Valentine’s Day.

Photo courtesy via Photopin and Creative Commons

And, all things sugary and sweet hadn’t yet become the deadly evil some see them as today and women of all ages delighted in receiving heart-shaped boxes of delectable chocolates.

Heart-shaped chocolate boxes - a winner for St Valentine's Day!

Heart-shaped chocolate boxes – a winner for St Valentine’s Day!

The late 1960s and 70s saw some move away from the concept of Valentine’s Day. A cynic might say that the Summer of Love caused some to discard it as a bourgeois concept – after all didn’t free love mean that every day was Valentine’s Day?

A beautiful psychedelic Valentines image from the 1970s

A beautiful psychedelic Valentine’s image from the 1970s.

Photo courtesy http://www.pinterest.com

But the “greed is good” decade put a stop to this thinking, and we saw an expansion of what one might expect to receive on Valentine’s Day. Cards, flowers and chocolate – those perennial old favourites – became somewhat old hat and a bit tired, and the diamond industry came up with the “brilliant” idea to promote the idea of St Valentine’s Day as the ideal time for giving jewellery, which of course features the girls’ best friend – the baguette, emerald, princess – any cut would do as long as it was a diamond!

Marilyn Monroe had been saying diamonds were a girl's best friend since the 1950s but the diamond industry didn't start promoting giving diamonds for Valentine's Day until the 1980s

Marilyn Monroe had been saying diamonds were a girl’s best friend since the 1950s but the diamond industry didn’t start promoting giving diamonds for Valentine’s Day until the 1980s.

Photo courtesy http://www.pinterest.com

St Valentine’s Day is truly alive and well in 2016 – it’s big business now, second only to Christmas. But remember, it’s a tradition steeped in history over millennia. This Valentine’s Day, take some time out to celebrate what you like about the day, and you might like to listen to my playlist of quirky and romantic songs:

1. I’m Sticking With You The Velvet Underground

2. You And Me The Wannadies

3. “Let’s Do It – Let’s Fall in Love” Ella Fitzerald

 

4 Comments on Even Educated Fleas Do It!

  1. Bec fludder
    February 12, 2015 at 10:45 pm (2 years ago)

    Love love love this post xxxx happy Valentines I !! Xxxx

    Reply
  2. Robyna | the Mummy & the Minx
    February 17, 2016 at 7:10 am (1 year ago)

    I love the things I learn on your blog! Hope you had a lovely valentines day – mine was very low key and that was fine by me.

    Reply

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