Like all popular holidays, Valentine’s Day has a host of myths, urban legends, and misconceptions, to go with a murky history, unclear origin, and a confusing mythology. Valentine’s Day origins aren’t well known, and even which “St. Valentine” the romantic holiday is named after isn’t quite clear. But it does have roots in literature of the Middle Ages, as well as English courtly traditions going back to the 1800s.
But even English lovers in the Victorian era weren’t spending the type of money that modern Americans spend on their true loves (or flings) on February 14. Valentine history is full of legends and widely believed theories that aren’t actually based in fact. How did romance even get connected with St. Valentine? Again, it’s not completely clear. And how much money do people really spend on Valentine’s Day gifts anyway?
These Valentines myths and legends about the Day for Lovers might surprise you, and you might find that what you thought you knew about the pink and red holiday known for hearts, Cupid, and Teddy bears isn’t quite true. Vote up the Valentine’s Day “facts” you were most surprised to learn aren’t totally true and then order in some food for you and your sweetie – the real V-Day pros know that eating out on February 14 isn’t romantic, it’s a nightmare.
Valentine's Day Started as a Holiday for Lovers
It was not until the 14th century that this Christian feast day became definitively associated with love. It’s probably the medieval poet and Canterbury Tales author Geoffrey Chaucer who first linked St. Valentine’s Day with romance, by way of a marriage poem. In 1381, Chaucer composed a poem to honor the engagement of England’s Richard II and Anne of Bohemia.
As per tradition, Chaucer associated the occasion with a feast day – in this case, Valentine. And even then, Chaucer didn’t use people to tell his story – he used birds. He wrote in “The Parliament of Fowls”:
For this was on St. Valentine’s Day,
When every fowl cometh there to choose his mate.
Chocolate Is the Ultimate Aphrodisiac
Chocolate has been a traditional Valentine’s Day staple since sometime after the 15th Century Aztecs made it an aphrodisiac. And indeed, some kinds of chocolate contain two chemicals found in people who are either aroused or in love. One is tryptophan, which is an element of serotonin. The other is phenylethylamine, a stimulant released in the brain when people fall in love.
But neither chemical appears in high enough quantities in the average box of chocolates to have much of an effect. You’d probably have to eat enough to get a stomachache, which is decidedly unsexy.
Valentine's Day Is a Hallmark Holiday Designed to Sell Cards
Lovers exchanging hand-made cards as tokens of affection on Valentine’s Day had become common in England by the 18th century. Eventually, these cards, usually made of lace or ribbons, and featuring the familiar iconography of cupids and hearts, spread to the American colonies.
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.
St. Valentine's Day Started as a Roman Feast Called Lupercalia
Lupercalia was an ancient Roman fertility rite observed from February 13–15. A form of purification and spring cleaning, it was designed to spike birth rates by having drunk men run around naked, hitting women who wanted to conceive. While popular during the heyday of the Roman Empire, it declined in popularity as Christianity arose, and it was banned by Pope Gelasius in the late 490s, folded into the concurrent Feast of Purification. 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.
Though Lupercalia and Valentine’s Day might indeed be linked, it’s not clear how, and the fact that they take place on the same day is probably coincidence. It’s more likely that Lupercalia spawned some of the rituals of the modern Mardi Gras celebration.
We Know A Lot About the Life of St. Valentine
We know about as much as we do about most other figures of early Christianity – which is to say, very little. Most of the stories commonly attributed to one or the other Valentines are squarely in the realm of myth, with nothing to confirm their veracity.
One legend of St. Valentine is that he was arrested and beheaded for marrying Christian couples or Roman soldiers to Christians. Another is that the earlier Valentine was imprisoned for refusing to convert to Paganism, and through his prison prayers, he healed the jailer’s blind daughter. On the day of his execution he supposedly left her a note that was signed “Your Valentine” – which was the first Valentine’s Day card. No evidence exists to support these or any of the other legends associated with St. Valentine, or even confirm when they might have occurred.
St. Valentine's Day Is an Important Christian Holiday
It’s not that important, and it’s not even a holiday. Instead, it’s one of many, many liturgical feast days on the Christian calendar, meant to commemorate various saints. In the case of February 14, the honors are for the martyrs Valentine of Rome and Valentine of Terni. Valentine of Rome was a priest killed around 500 CE, while Valentine of Terni was killed around 200 CE. There might have even been a third Valentine, an African saint martyred much later than the other two.
In fact, the General Roman Catholic Calendar removed it as a feast day in 1969 because nothing could be confirmed about the existence of Valentine of Rome.
Your Partner Wants You to Propose on Valentine's Day
They almost certainly don’t. According to a survey by the Daily Mail 70% of women don’t want to get a proposal on Valentine’s Day, feeling that it’s too gimmicky and too predictable. Of 1,107 women they polled, just 19% said they would like to be proposed to on Valentine’s Day, while 74% said they wouldn’t. And almost 50% of the women they surveyed stated they’d rather have their proposal come as a complete surprise.
Despite this, nearly four million Americans propose on Valentine’s Day anyway.
People Go Crazy Spending Money
It depends on what you define as crazy. According to the National Retail Federation, the average American couple spent $133.91 total on gifts for each other on Valentine’s Day. Men reported $108.38, while women reporting spending $49.41. This isn’t much more than the cost of a nice dinner out, so don’t think everyone is out buying their sweetheart a diamond bracelet.
Ladies Want You to Buy Them Something Sexy
Thanks to the unrealistic ideals propagated by men’s magazines and the media in general, many women have body issues that could only be exacerbated by buying them lingerie they’re not comfortable with. Men seem to have gotten the message, as according to flower company Teleflora, only 11% buy sexy night things for their partner. Your best bet is to ask your lady what she actually wants – whether it’s something sexy or something else – rather than just getting what you think you are supposed to buy.
The St. Valentine's Day Massacre Bricks Are Cursed
The Massacre was the machine-gunning of five members of Chicago’s North Side Irish gang (along with two other unlucky associates) by Al Capone’s South Side Italians. The victims were lined up against the brick wall of a warehouse in Lincoln Park and ventilated with Tommy Guns. The warehouse soon became a tourist attraction and was torn down in 1967, with the bricks purchased by Canadian businessman George Patey. They were then used in the men’s room of a ’20s themed club, with a Plexiglass wall around them so men could pee on them.
The club closed and the bricks were sold off piecemeal, with many ending up at the Mob Museum in Las Vegas. Patey claimed that many of the individual bricks he sold came back to him, returned by people whobefell bad luck in business, love, and health due to them. But this presupposes the existence of curses – and Patey’s story actually being true.
Roses Are Red, Violets Are Blue
This highly clichéd bit of poetic doggerel stretches back to the English nursery rhyme collection Gammer Gurton’s Garland from 1784. And it probably goes even further than that, with a reference to “red roses” found in Sir Edmund Spenser’s 1590 epic The Faerie Queen. It probably entered the popular lexicon when it was a line in one of the songs in Victor Hugo’s 1862 book Les Miserables.
French Nobleman Charles, Duke of Orleans Wrote the First Valentine's Poem
Charles was just 21 when taken prisoner by the British at the disastrous Battle of Agincourt in 1415 – legend has it he was found unharmed under a pile of corpses, unable to move due to the weight of his armor. He was held in the Tower of London for many years, where he composed up to 500 poems, many to his wife, Bonne of Armagnac. Allegedly, one of these was the first Valentine’s Day poem, written just a year into his captivity.
In reality, Charles might have written ONE of the first known Valentine’s poems, but whether or not it was literally THE first can never be known with certainty. The romantic poetry tradition was already alive and well, so this is probably more urban legend than historical fact. Charles was released in 1440, 10 years after Bonne died.
That Valentine's Day Prix Fixe Dinner Is a Great Deal
It’s probably not. In fact, restaurateurs agree that Valentine’s Day is a terrible night to go out for dinner, with places packed with couples that don’t often go out to eat and will either be going all out to impress each other or so preoccupied with PDA that they’ll be annoying other diners. The waitstaff is stressed out and the chef is trying to push out too many meals – and since restaurants are so packed, the prix fixe menus usually tilt toward standard and unimaginative fare.
Food experts agree that it’s more romantic to either pick up a little something to enjoy at home, or just cook together.
Taking a Hot Bath Together Is Super Sexy
It can be, if you have room for two in your bathtub. On the other hand, it might also be destroying your sperm count. A three-year study by a Brazilian urologic journal found that many of the subjects’ fertility stats, including count and motility, soared after they stopped taking hot baths. This can lead to savings of thousands of dollars in fertility treatments, as well as the heartache of not being able to get pregnant.