Sunday, 14 February 2010

No roses with my valentines, thank you.

 Why so many flowers on Valentine cards?  Has nobody else ever thought it odd that in the middle of February, an interminably cold month, cards are covered in spring flowers at best, and often summer flowers.

Don't tell me that February produces spring or summer flowers elsewhere in the world because the first mention of Valentine's Day was in 1415 by the Duke of Orléans, while imprisoned in the Tower of London.
"Je suis desja d'amour tanné
Ma tres doulce Valentinée…"
This is often quoted as the first Valentine but in reality he wrote poetry with several references to Saint Valentine, generally contrasting the sunshine and the mating of birds with his own sorry state in prison.  Now, in the 15th century Europe, you can be sure they weren't importing flowers from warmer countries.  You can also be sure that there was little warm sunshine over the Tower of London, nor mating birds in mid-February.

Going back a little further I find that Chaucer wrote

"For this was on seynt Volantynys day
Whan euery bryd comyth there to chese his make."
This was an entirely fictional account of a make-believe tradition, and was written to mark the anniversary of the engagement of Richard II to Anne of Bohemia.  Chaucer wrote a love poem every May.  May!  We may be getting somewhere!  There is a Saint Valentine, a Bishop of Genoa from about 295 whose memorial day is 2 May.   Confusion reigns, and it was assumed in hindsight that Chaucer was referring to 14 February because there were two different martyrs called Valentine and whose commemorative feasts were 14 February.

The more modern tradition of sending greetings on 14 February became popular in 1797 with the publication of "The Young Man's Valentine Writer" but it wasn't until postal services became widely available to all that it really took off.  

So there we have it, flowers and birds became associated with Valentine's Day under false pretences.  You can be sure that florists have never done anything to dispel the notion, and of course card manufacturers and producers of chocolates have since joined the bandwagon, until for many people Valentines and Valentine's Day gifts are general greetings rather than declarations of love.
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  1. Odd that different places have such different customs. Here our children dress in flower costumes and little heart-shaped masks and knock on doors asking for chocolates.

    Unlike Chaucer's bryd, I'll not be cheesing my make in the snow, thank you very much.

  2. You see, Max, after all this time, I still don't know whether to believe you. Anyone who can dress up in a pumpkin, can do pretty well anything. flower costumes seem tame in comparison.

    Chesing your make in the snow can be most invigorating, I feel sure.


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