Who's to blame for Valentine's Day?
For those of you (and by "you" I mean you, you feckless men) who will find yourselves digging frantically through pawed-over racks of cards and candy Monday, cursing whoever invented this wretched holiday, I have five words:
Blame it on Geoffrey Chaucer.
Who's that, you ask? Chaucer was the great 14th-century English poet who wrote "The Canterbury Tales." He also, in the opinion of at least one professor, pretty much invented Valentine's Day.
Jack B. Oruch made his case in a 50,000-word article, "St. Valentine, Chaucer, and Spring in February," published in 1981, when he was teaching English at the University of Kansas.
Oruch argued that there's no evidence of any association of St. Valentine with romantic love before Chaucer wrote "The Parlement of Foules," a poem about birds choosing their mates, which includes the lines:
"For this was on seynt Valentynes day,
Whan every foul cometh ther to chese his make..."
Retired now and living in Gahanna, Ohio, Oruch is still of that opinion.
"In the middle ages, people made up stories about saints to get people into Christianity," Oruch says, "and as a result some myths got made. All the stories about St. Valentine are basically without any documentary evidence."
Never mind that nobody is really sure which St. Valentine the day celebrates; there are at least three of them, none of whom have any obvious connection to the pursuit of passion.
"The earliest documented association of Valentine's Day with love and the stuff that came with it, giving little presents," begins with Chaucer, Oruch says.
And he went to great lengths to prove it, showing that on the calendar that Chaucer was working with, Valentine's Day would fall on Feb. 25.
Oruch even researched the birds of England.
"Chaucer suggested in the poem the birds begin to mate on Valentine's Day," he says. "That was not a far-fetched thing to say. I found a good number of birds that did mate and nest in February."
Of course, Chaucer wasn't alone in this; he was soon followed by other poets, most of whom you've never heard of, who helped propagate the romantic ideal, having no idea it would grow into the $16 billion industry it is today.
And as for Oruch's research?
"The article made no difference," he says, sounding a bit forlorn. "All the articles about Valentine's Day each year repeat the same myths."
This is the opinion of Kenton Robinson.
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