Blame Chaucer

Photo by Gabby K on Pexels.com

Hey everyone, happy Saturday! It’s the day before everyone’s favorite holiday to hate–Valentine’s Day! We probably won’t do anything special–we’re in a pandemic, after all–but we probably wouldn’t have, anyway. It’s just not as fun when you’re an adult. The fun was in the crafts as a kid, and all the candy.

There are times I wonder why Valentine’s Day became a day of love. In school, we were taught it was the Feast of St. Valentine, a priest who married couples in secret in defiance of the Roman emperor, so he was killed. Of course, that’s grossly oversimplified, but you can’t tell a bunch of first graders there were a bunch of people named Valentine, and the early church combined them all into one person. (Well, you could, but they didn’t.)

There was also an ancient rite called Lupercalia, which was a ritual holiday involving women getting slapped with strips of goat hide dipped in goat’s blood. It was thought this increased their fertility. Later on, all single women would put their names in a jar and single men would draw a name. They were partnered for the year, and it usually ended up with them getting married. This is the PG version of the holiday–there’s lots on the internet about this festival, and from an educational standpoint, it’s really interesting.

All that said, this is not how February 14th became Love Pukes Everywhere Day. No, no. I finally got my answer in college during my British Literature class as part of my English minor. As the title indicates, we can blame this on Geoffrey Chaucer, and a bunch of birds. See? I knew there was another reason for me to hate birds.

The English and French believed February 14th was around the time birds would begin mating for the year. I guess that makes sense, timing-wise. The first written account of this came from Geoffrey Chaucer’s poem “The Parliament of Foules,” written in 1375.

For this was on Seynt Valentynes day,
Whan every foul cometh ther to chese his make,
Of every kinde, that men thynke may;
And that so huge a noyse gan they make,
That erthe and see, and tree, and every lake
So ful was, that unnethe was ther space
For me to stonde, so ful was al the place.

“The Parliament of Foules,” Geoffrey Chaucer, lines 309-315

Ok, so maybe my hatred of Valentine’s Day is a little exaggerated. The fact remains, it’s changed over time and its origins are a little murky, and the beginnings of how we know it today were based off a poet needing new material, so he wrote about one of my least favorite creatures, birds.

Stupid birds.

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