Valentine's Day 2018: Top Holiday Myths, Misconceptions & Trivia

Valentine’s Day is here again! People have different reactions to the holiday. Some are planning a lavish date with a significant other. Others are plotting their revenge against the greeting card industry.
That said, a lot of things you may know about the holiday might not be as true as you think. We’ve compiled a list of misconceptions and myths people often have about the holiday.
Keep in mind, history is a tricky subject. Evidence can get lost to time, so while many things cannot be proven as false, it can also be hard to prove as fact, too. Historians seemingly find new evidence and develop new theories nearly every day, so, all in all, things can get complicated.

Valentine’s Day: What is Myth & what is Fact?

When did this become a holiday about love?

Myth: Valentine’s Day honors the patron saint of romance.
Fact: It wasn’t really until the 14th century, when the concept of “courtly love” made it big, that Valentine’s Day became associated with celebrating romance. Geoffrey Chaucer, who college kids might recognize as the author of The Canterbury Tales, helped to associate the holiday with lovers in his poem, Parlement of Foules.
According to Got Medieval, an excerpt of Chaucer’s poem, translated into Modern English, can be read below:

“There sat a queen who was more lovely by far than any other creature, just as the summer sun outshines the stars. This noble goddess Nature sat enthroned in a pavilion she had wrought of branches upon a flowered hill atop a meadow. And there was not any bird born of love that was not ready in her presence to hear her and receive her judgment. For this was Saint Valentine’s Day, when all the birds of every kind that men can imagine come to choose their mates.”

Interestingly enough, the poem also references the Roman goddess of love, Venus.

Just who was this St. Valentine?

Myth: There is only one St. Valentine.
Fact: The Roman Catholic Church actually honors around a dozen different saints who were named Valentine, a popular Latin name which means “strong” or “worthy.” One may have even been a pope! At least four are believed to have died on February 14, although many historians believe the holiday originated to honor at least two different men. History explains it more in-depth:

“Officially recognized by the Roman Catholic Church, St. Valentine is known to be a real person who died around A.D. 270. However, his true identity was questioned as early as A.D. 496 by Pope Gelasius I, who referred to the martyr and his acts as ‘being known only to God.’ One account from the 1400s describes Valentine as a temple priest who was beheaded near Rome by the emperor Claudius II for helping Christian couples wed. A different account claims Valentine was the Bishop of Terni, also martyred by Claudius II on the outskirts of Rome.”

It is possible that the St. Valentine mentioned in the conflicting accounts is the same person; the reports of his death could have been taken out of context.

Is Valentine’s Day based on a Roman festival?

Myth: Valentine’s Day was originally a Roman holiday called Lupercalia
Fact: Admittedly, Lupercalia was celebrated in mid-February and honored fertility practices (men would bathe and hit women in the hopes it would make them fertile), but there is no evidence to suggest that the holidays are linked. Explaining that the festival was also already losing popularity as Christianity arose, Ranker added:

“No written evidence connects the modern Valentine’s Day with this rite, given that Valentine’s Day didn’t become connected with love or lovers until much later.”

Ironically, Cupid, the modern day mascot, was the Roman god of love.

Speaking of Cupid…

Myth: Cupid is a chubby angel that shoots people with arrows
Fact: Okay, in all fairness, Cupid is a literal myth, but you get what I am saying here. The Roman Cupid, an extension of the Greek god, Eros, had a complicated mythology. He was originally a primordial personification of love who was retroactively changed to be the son of Aphrodite, the goddess of beauty, and Ares, the god of war. Even the Greeks were unsure about his parents; one story made him the son of a wind-god, another made him the father of Aphrodite.
When Eros became the Latin Cupid, the Romans usually treated his Venus and Mars, the counterparts of Aphrodite and Aphrodite, as his parents, but they were also inconsistent about this. Sometimes, this was explained with there being more than one Cupid.
The Romans also probably didn’t think of Cupid as eternally being a little boy, as their version had a girlfriend. In Roman mythology, a mortal princess named Psyche was so lovely, the goddess Venus became envious and sent Cupid to make her fall in love with a monster. While doing this, Cupid accidentally shoots himself and falls in love with Psyche. They marry in secret and, after various misadventures, Psyche becomes a goddess.
Renaissance art popularized the image of Cupid as a little boy, usually placing him alongside his mother, Venus. According to CBC Kids, the greeting-card industry is also partially to blame:

“In early stories and poetry about Cupid, he was described as a young, handsome man with white wings and a golden bow. But during the 14th to 17th centuries, painters created many works of art that showed Cupid as a baby angel. This same version began to appear on Valentine’s Day cards during the late 1800s.”

What is the holiday like around the world?

Myth: Valentine’s Day is a day for the ladies to get chocolate!
Fact: In Japan, things are somewhat reversed. Girls are the ones who give chocolate to the boys! In fact, it’s the girl’s responsibility to give away chocolates to a lot of people in her life. Only In Japan explains:

“There are two types of chocolates, ‘Giri-choco’ (obligation chocolate), and ‘Honmei-choco.’ Giri-choco is meant to be for friends, colleagues, bosses, and close male friends. ‘Giri’ means obligation hence this Giri-choco has no romance involved. On the other hand, Honmei-choco is given to a boyfriend, lover, or husband with true love.”

If you are worried about the girls getting presents, don’t worry. Fortunately, the boys return the favor on another holiday called “White Day,” celebrated on March 14. It almost makes you wish we had things so organized in the West.

The question on everyone’s mind…

Myth: Valentine’s Day was created by the greeting card industry.
Fact: As we’ve established, Valentine’s Day involves a lot of figures, many of which predate the greeting card industry. According to historians, people likely started sending valentines by the 18th century; harmlessly enough, these were usually homemade cards, furnished with ribbons and lace. Ranker explains how the commercialization started:

“It wasn’t until the 1850s, when Esther A. Howland began mass-producing them that the greeting card industry truly took off in the US. But take off it did, with tens of millions of cards being bought and mailed every year.”

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