February 14th is a day of widely mixed emotions. For some, it means a romantic night with a loved one, flowers at work, breakfast in bed, chocolates in a heart-shaped box, barely eatable chalk-like candies with words printed on them, grand sweeping gestures of love, and an all-around endorphin-filled day. For others, it means disappointment, loneliness, and putting on a brave face while watching and listening to others enjoy their day of romance. Valentine’s Day is one of the most emotional days of many people’s year. As it turns out, the history of Valentine’s Day is filled with just as much emotional turmoil as it creates.
Firstly, the man himself, Saint Valentine. Unfortunately much of the history of Saint Valentine has become mythologized and convoluted over the years. What seems to be agreeable is that there was a Catholic priest in Rome who was martyred on February 14th some time around the year 270. It wasn’t until 496 AD that Pope Gelasius decided to mark February 14th as a day of celebration in honor of his martyrdom. Most theories say that Valentine was caught performing marriages for Catholics during the reign of the Protestant Claudius II, who ordered the priest to be clubbed and stoned. When this failed to kill Valentine, he was then beheaded. One rather interesting story is that while in jail, on the eve of his execution, he wrote a letter to the jailor’s daughter and signed it “From your Valentine.” Not only is Valentine the patron saint of young married and engaged couples, love, and happiness, he is apparently also the patron saint of bee keepers, epilepsy, fainting, greetings, plague, and travelers.
Just in case celebrating a man who was tortured and beheaded wasn’t grim enough, there’s the Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre to think about as well. In 1929 the Chicago gang of the south side Italians (Al Capone) dressed up as police men, lined up several members of the north side Irish gang against a garage wall and open fired on them. Killing six instantly and sending one (conscious) survivor to the hospital with 14 bullet wounds, who died three hours later. The killings were so brutal that they nearly obliterated the faces of two of the men. This massacre was a massive statement of territory take-over by Capone. The intended target, Bugs Moran, the leader of the south Irish gang, was not killed, however, as the gunmen mistook one of Moran’s associates for Bug’s. These killings only served to escalate the gang violence.
Finally, the most iconic image associated with Valentine’s Day is , obviously, the heart. It’s not secret that the symbol of the heart looks very little like the organ of the same name. So where did it come from? There are several theories. One is the idea that if you take two circles of the same size, holding one still and rotating the other around it, you get the shape of a heart. Perhaps that best theory though is the one that claims the heart is the shape of a woman’s buttocks as she’s bent over. Of course, there’s also many more crude and illicitly detailed body parts for both males and females that have been ascribed as the basis for the heart. Either way, the shape of that candy chalk you’re eating, doesn’t look so tasty now, does it?
So whether you’re looking forward to February 14th with happiness or derision, keep in mind that what you’re really celebrating is the beheaded saint of epilepsy and bee-keepers, gang massacres and probably some interestingly shaped genitalia. Happy V-Day everyone!