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Episode
132

Valentine's Day

Feb 12, 2021
History
-
19
minutes
Romans
The Middle Ages
Advertising
Christianity

It's the day of the year where we celebrate love and desire.

But where does it actually come from?

The origins of Valentine's Day are mysterious, and not even that closely related to love at all.

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Transcript

[00:00:00] Hello, hello hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English. 

[00:00:11] The show where you can listen to fascinating stories, and learn weird and wonderful things about the world at the same time as improving your English.

[00:00:21] I'm Alastair Budge and today we are going to be talking about Valentine’s Day.

[00:00:27] This episode is set to be released on February the 12th, two days before a day that has become associated with romance and love across much of the world.

[00:00:37] So, in today’s episode we are going to talk about the history of this day, some of the not-very-romantic-at-all theories about where it originates and how it has developed into this huge commercial holiday. 

[00:00:53] It’s a fascinating story, and whether you’re listening to this just before Valentine’s Day or you want to surprise a loved one with some trivia, with some interesting facts, or you just want to listen to an interesting story, I hope you’ll enjoy today’s episode.

[00:01:09] Before we get right into that though, let me quickly remind you that you can get all of the bonus episodes, plus the subtitles, the transcript, and the key vocabulary for this episode and all of our other ones over on the website, which is leonardoenglish.com. 

[00:01:20] This is also where you can also check out becoming a member of Leonardo English, and join a community of curious minds from all over the world, doing meetups, exchanging ideas, and generally, improving their English in a more interesting way.

[00:01:40] So if that's of interest, and I certainly hope it is, then the place to go to is leonardoenglish.com.

[00:01:48] OK then, Valentine’s Day.

[00:01:51] I should start by saying that nobody really knows where Valentine’s Day definitively comes from. 

[00:01:59] If you read an article with a catchy title like “The Real Origins of Valentine’s Day”, you’ll probably learn about one of the theories about where Valentine’s Day comes from, but historians do not agree on the matter, and there are several ideas, all intriguing and interesting in their own right.

[00:02:20] It’s one of those things that we are probably never going to know the real origin of, and even going back to 1853 there was an article in the New York Times that described Valentine’s Day as, and I'm quoting directly here, “one of those mysterious historical or antiquarian problems which are doomed never to be solved.”

[00:02:44] So, instead of attempting to claim “Here’s where Valentine’s Day comes from”, in this episode we’ll talk about some of the more prominent theories, and you can decide for yourself which one sounds most plausible.

[00:02:59] The most common explanation for where Valentine’s Day comes from is from St Valentine, a man who was killed because of his dedication to love.

[00:03:09] But there are actually stories of two St. Valentines, two different legends of a Valentine who was martyred for his romantic actions, who was killed for his romantic deeds, and both of these stories have slightly different versions.

[00:03:28] Our first Valentine is a Christian priest called Valentinius, who lived in the 3rd Century AD, just north of Rome.

[00:03:38] The legend goes that Valentinius was arrested by the Roman Emperor Claudius for the crime of helping persecuted Christians.

[00:03:48] He was imprisoned by an aristocrat called Asterius. 

[00:03:52] While he was being held by Asterius, our priest Valentinius was allowed to preach, he was allowed to tell Asterius about Jesus Christ. 

[00:04:04] Asterius was captivated by what he heard about this miraculous Christ, and made a deal with Valentinius.

[00:04:12] If this Jesus Christ could cure Asterius’s daughter of blindness, if he could make her see again, then Asterius would free Valentinius.

[00:04:26] Valentinius put his hands over the blind daughter’s eyes, he said a prayer, and ta-da, the daughter could see.

[00:04:35] Asterius had seen the light, he had seen the power of God, and immediately converted to Christianity. 

[00:04:42] And of course, Valentinius was freed.

[00:04:46] When the Emperor got wind of this, when he heard about this story, he was furious and ordered for them all to be put to death. 

[00:04:55] Valentinius was thrown back into jail, but he had fallen in love with Asterius' daughter, and reportedly wrote her a love letter the night before he was to be executed.

[00:05:07] It was signed, ‘Your Valentine’, which has become a traditional way to sign a Valentine’s Card.

[00:05:15] There are numerous different versions of this story, with parts added and removed.

[00:05:21] One additional twist that appears in several versions is that Valentinius performed secret Christian marriage ceremonies for Roman soldiers who weren’t allowed to marry.

[00:05:33] The whole story is, of course, a little problematic. 

[00:05:37] Even if we skip over the part where Valentinius miraculously heals the blind daughter, the probability that Valentinius would have been able to get pen and paper in his jail cell would have been slim, it would've been quite small, and even if he could have, it’s very unlikely that a young woman in the 3rd Century AD would have been able to read, especially if she was blind just shortly beforehand.

[00:06:03] Nevertheless, this is one of the most prominent stories, and if we worried too much about the practical considerations of the origins of the feasts and celebrations that we know and love, life wouldn’t be that much fun.

[00:06:18] So, that’s our first St Valentine, St Valentinius of Rome.

[00:06:23] Our second theory of where Valentine’s Day comes from is about another St Valentine, but this time it’s St Valentine of Terni, a town about 75 kilometres to the north of Rome.

[00:06:37] The story about St Valentine of Terni actually dates from a similar time, in the third century AD, when Christianity was still very much considered a cult, not a mainstream religion.

[00:06:52] Valentinius of Terni was a Christian bishop with a similar story to Valentinius of Rome. 

[00:06:59] He tried to convert someone, he healed their child as proof of the power of Christianity, but was later executed by the Roman Emperor as punishment for trying to convert this person to Christianity.

[00:07:14] Like the story of St Valentine of Rome, there are some additions, such as St Valentine offering a fighting couple a rose and telling them to love each other because they only had one heart. 

[00:07:28] And there are variants of the story of St Valentine of Terni that are identical to St Valentine of Rome, for example that he conducted clandestine, secret, Christian marriage ceremonies for young Roman couples that weren’t allowed to be married in a Christian tradition.

[00:07:47] The reality is that there probably weren’t two St Valentines. 

[00:07:51] There might have been one, and the story has been told and retold, embellished as the years went on, with parts from other legends added.

[00:08:02] Fair enough, you might think, but why is it on February 14th, and how did it go from a Christian bishop being killed to a huge celebration of love and romance, and something that is quite far removed from any religion?

[00:08:19] Well, it did start out as a religious feast.

[00:08:22] The Feast of St Valentine was added to the Catholic religious calendar around the year 496, and celebrated this mythical St Valentine.

[00:08:34] There are some interesting theories about why the date of February the 14th was chosen.

[00:08:41] There’s no evidence that St Valentine was killed on or even around February 14th, and instead the theory goes that it was placed on that day to coincide with a pagan festival that was celebrated by the Romans called Lupercalia.

[00:09:00] The Christian church was trying to convert as many people as possible to Christianity, and turning a pagan celebration into a Christian one was a far simpler way of getting people onboard than just saying “ok, you can’t celebrate your Pagan festival now, you need to celebrate our Christian one on a different date”.

[00:09:21] Lupercalia was already a festival that celebrated fertility, and thus it wasn’t a huge jump to go from a festival that celebrated the act of reproduction through to one that celebrated a saint who had a strong romantic story.

[00:09:39] During the Roman feast of Lupercalia, Roman priests would meet at a cave where it was believed Romulus and Remus, the founders of Rome, had been brought up by a wolf. 

[00:09:52] They would then sacrifice a goat, they would kill a goat, they would skin it, they would cut off its skin and then dip the pieces of goatskin into blood. 

[00:10:05] After this they would walk through the streets of Rome with this bloody goatskin and slap women with it. 

[00:10:14] The idea was that this would make the women more fertile, more able to produce children in the coming year.

[00:10:23] Further to this, the young women of the city would put their name into a big jar, and the young, unmarried men would pick the names out, and matches would be formed, young men would be paired together with young women.

[00:10:38] So, it was in 496 AD that this pagan feast of Lupercalia was banned and replaced with the Feast of St Valentine, a celebration of the life of St Valentine.

[00:10:52] But, crucially, it was not immediately a celebration of love and romance at all.

[00:10:58] This wasn’t to come for several centuries, and many historians believe that the association with love and romance was first put forward by the English poet, Geoffrey Chaucer, in the 14th Century.

[00:11:13] The medieval era saw the development of something called courtly love, this idea that love was a powerful force that swept people up and caused them to do great, brave things to win over the objects of their desire. 

[00:11:29] Of course, this idea of courtly love is everywhere throughout medieval literature.

[00:11:36] At the time that Chaucer was writing, it was believed in England and France that mid-February was when birds choose their mate, they choose a partner, and when flowers start to bloom. 

[00:11:49] So mid-February, and Valentine’s Day, which is February 14th, became associated with love, coupling up, and reproduction. 

[00:11:59] Aristocrats started to write love letters to each other, and as the idea of February 14th being a celebration of love and romance continued to grow, this became a more and more important part of European culture.

[00:12:15] When it came to Shakespeare, in the early 17th Century, we can see the Valentine’s Day tradition clearly there, with Ophelia, one of the characters in Hamlet, saying that she was Hamlet’s Valentine.

[00:12:30] Hamlet was first published in 1609, and by this time the connection between Valentine’s Day and love was clearly established.

[00:12:40] With these connections now a part of much of Western European culture, it was just a question of the mass commercialisation of it that we are familiar with today.

[00:12:52] There’s evidence of this trend starting as early as the 1840s, when the tradition of sending Valentine’s Day cards started. 

[00:13:02] The cost of printing had reduced greatly, given the invention of the printing press, and improvements in the postal service had also reduced costs. 

[00:13:12] So, by the mid 19th Century it was comparatively easy and cheap to buy and send a Valentine’s card for a loved one. 

[00:13:22] And as shops started offering more and more expensive Valentine’s Day gifts, and chocolate manufacturers also got in on the game, these costs soon spiralled out of control

[00:13:35] In America, where Valentine’s Day is probably more commercialised than anywhere else in the world, people will spend $20 billion dollars on Valentine’s day, with the average Valentine’s Day gift costing $110.

[00:13:51] Indeed, it’s believed by many that the reason that Valentine’s Day is now such a big deal is in no small part because the companies that profit from it have spent hundreds of millions of dollars marketing it, promoting their products to make people feel bad if they aren’t spending large amounts of money on Valentine’s Day.

[00:14:14] Hallmark, the American card manufacturer, has been accused of pushing Valentine’s Day cards on young children, and essentially inventing the idea that kids at school should be sending Valentine's cards to each other, making it a competition about who received the most.

[00:14:34] For Hallmark, Valentine’s Day is the second biggest day in the year, after Christmas, for sending cards, with 145 million Valentine’s Day cards sent. 

[00:14:45] As you probably know, greeting cards are incredibly cheap to produce, and are very high margin, the companies make a lot of money from selling each one. 

[00:14:56] There are countless adverts leading up to Valentine’s Day encouraging us to spend, spend, spend, and placing the idea that you are a bad husband, boyfriend, wife or girlfriend if you aren’t treating your loved one to something special.

[00:15:12] And for people who aren’t in a relationship, Valentine’s Day can obviously be a difficult time of year. 

[00:15:20] This has led to several anti-Valentine’s Day holidays, some of which take place around February 14th, and others are on completely different dates.

[00:15:32] In the US there is something called Singles Awareness Day, which is a celebration of being single. 

[00:15:39] That happens on February 14th, on Valentine's Day, and the idea is that you make a toast of your single status, and presumably celebrate not being pressured to spend hundreds of dollars on cards, chocolate and roses.

[00:15:54] In China there’s something called Single’s Day, which is celebrated on November 11th. 

[00:16:01] The idea here is to treat yourself, to spend money on yourself, because nobody is buying presents for you. 

[00:16:08] This has actually morphed into the biggest spending day in the entire world, and is about two and a half times bigger than Cyber Monday, so although it might have started as an anti-Valentine’s Day, it’s really just a way to bag yourself a few bargains.

[00:16:28] And one that emerged out of a TV Series called Parks & Recreation is something called Galentine’s Day, which is celebrated on the day before Valentine’s Day. The idea here is that it’s a way for women to celebrate friendship, without any pressure or romantic implications

[00:16:48] And to explain the name, Gal is slang for ‘girl’, so it’s Valentine’s, just for gals - Galentine’s.

[00:16:56] So, that’s Valentine’s Day, and some of the theories that surround it. 

[00:17:01] It’s one of those traditions that is now observed by hundreds of millions of people around the world, that has most likely been pushed upon us by companies that profit from it, but that does have some interesting stories about its potential origins.

[00:17:16] And for those of us that might not like the idea of being pressured to spend on cards and roses that will end up in the rubbish bin just a few days later, or those who just don’t like the idea of the day in general, I guess we can be thankful that we don’t have to run through the streets of Rome with the bloody skin of a dead goat.

[00:17:39] OK then, that is it for today's episode on Valentine’s Day.

[00:17:44] I hope it's been an interesting one, that you've learnt something new, and that whatever you do on February 14th, whether you’re celebrating Valentine’s Day, or whether you are not, that you have a fantastic day.

[00:17:56] As always, I would love to know what you thought of this episode. Is Valentine’s Day celebrated in your country? 

[00:18:03] If so, how do you do it? 

[00:18:05] You can head right into our community forum, which is at community.leonardoenglish.com and get chatting away to other curious minds.

[00:18:13] And as a final reminder, if you are looking to improve your English in a more interesting way, to join a community of curious minds from all over the world, to unlock the transcripts, the subtitles, and key vocabulary, then the place to go to is leonardoenglish.com

[00:18:31] You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:18:37] I'm Alastair Budge, you stay safe, and I'll catch you in the next episode.


[END OF EPISODE]



Continue learning

Get immediate access to a more interesting way of improving your English
Become a memberUpgrade to Learner membership
Already a member? Login

[00:00:00] Hello, hello hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English. 

[00:00:11] The show where you can listen to fascinating stories, and learn weird and wonderful things about the world at the same time as improving your English.

[00:00:21] I'm Alastair Budge and today we are going to be talking about Valentine’s Day.

[00:00:27] This episode is set to be released on February the 12th, two days before a day that has become associated with romance and love across much of the world.

[00:00:37] So, in today’s episode we are going to talk about the history of this day, some of the not-very-romantic-at-all theories about where it originates and how it has developed into this huge commercial holiday. 

[00:00:53] It’s a fascinating story, and whether you’re listening to this just before Valentine’s Day or you want to surprise a loved one with some trivia, with some interesting facts, or you just want to listen to an interesting story, I hope you’ll enjoy today’s episode.

[00:01:09] Before we get right into that though, let me quickly remind you that you can get all of the bonus episodes, plus the subtitles, the transcript, and the key vocabulary for this episode and all of our other ones over on the website, which is leonardoenglish.com. 

[00:01:20] This is also where you can also check out becoming a member of Leonardo English, and join a community of curious minds from all over the world, doing meetups, exchanging ideas, and generally, improving their English in a more interesting way.

[00:01:40] So if that's of interest, and I certainly hope it is, then the place to go to is leonardoenglish.com.

[00:01:48] OK then, Valentine’s Day.

[00:01:51] I should start by saying that nobody really knows where Valentine’s Day definitively comes from. 

[00:01:59] If you read an article with a catchy title like “The Real Origins of Valentine’s Day”, you’ll probably learn about one of the theories about where Valentine’s Day comes from, but historians do not agree on the matter, and there are several ideas, all intriguing and interesting in their own right.

[00:02:20] It’s one of those things that we are probably never going to know the real origin of, and even going back to 1853 there was an article in the New York Times that described Valentine’s Day as, and I'm quoting directly here, “one of those mysterious historical or antiquarian problems which are doomed never to be solved.”

[00:02:44] So, instead of attempting to claim “Here’s where Valentine’s Day comes from”, in this episode we’ll talk about some of the more prominent theories, and you can decide for yourself which one sounds most plausible.

[00:02:59] The most common explanation for where Valentine’s Day comes from is from St Valentine, a man who was killed because of his dedication to love.

[00:03:09] But there are actually stories of two St. Valentines, two different legends of a Valentine who was martyred for his romantic actions, who was killed for his romantic deeds, and both of these stories have slightly different versions.

[00:03:28] Our first Valentine is a Christian priest called Valentinius, who lived in the 3rd Century AD, just north of Rome.

[00:03:38] The legend goes that Valentinius was arrested by the Roman Emperor Claudius for the crime of helping persecuted Christians.

[00:03:48] He was imprisoned by an aristocrat called Asterius. 

[00:03:52] While he was being held by Asterius, our priest Valentinius was allowed to preach, he was allowed to tell Asterius about Jesus Christ. 

[00:04:04] Asterius was captivated by what he heard about this miraculous Christ, and made a deal with Valentinius.

[00:04:12] If this Jesus Christ could cure Asterius’s daughter of blindness, if he could make her see again, then Asterius would free Valentinius.

[00:04:26] Valentinius put his hands over the blind daughter’s eyes, he said a prayer, and ta-da, the daughter could see.

[00:04:35] Asterius had seen the light, he had seen the power of God, and immediately converted to Christianity. 

[00:04:42] And of course, Valentinius was freed.

[00:04:46] When the Emperor got wind of this, when he heard about this story, he was furious and ordered for them all to be put to death. 

[00:04:55] Valentinius was thrown back into jail, but he had fallen in love with Asterius' daughter, and reportedly wrote her a love letter the night before he was to be executed.

[00:05:07] It was signed, ‘Your Valentine’, which has become a traditional way to sign a Valentine’s Card.

[00:05:15] There are numerous different versions of this story, with parts added and removed.

[00:05:21] One additional twist that appears in several versions is that Valentinius performed secret Christian marriage ceremonies for Roman soldiers who weren’t allowed to marry.

[00:05:33] The whole story is, of course, a little problematic. 

[00:05:37] Even if we skip over the part where Valentinius miraculously heals the blind daughter, the probability that Valentinius would have been able to get pen and paper in his jail cell would have been slim, it would've been quite small, and even if he could have, it’s very unlikely that a young woman in the 3rd Century AD would have been able to read, especially if she was blind just shortly beforehand.

[00:06:03] Nevertheless, this is one of the most prominent stories, and if we worried too much about the practical considerations of the origins of the feasts and celebrations that we know and love, life wouldn’t be that much fun.

[00:06:18] So, that’s our first St Valentine, St Valentinius of Rome.

[00:06:23] Our second theory of where Valentine’s Day comes from is about another St Valentine, but this time it’s St Valentine of Terni, a town about 75 kilometres to the north of Rome.

[00:06:37] The story about St Valentine of Terni actually dates from a similar time, in the third century AD, when Christianity was still very much considered a cult, not a mainstream religion.

[00:06:52] Valentinius of Terni was a Christian bishop with a similar story to Valentinius of Rome. 

[00:06:59] He tried to convert someone, he healed their child as proof of the power of Christianity, but was later executed by the Roman Emperor as punishment for trying to convert this person to Christianity.

[00:07:14] Like the story of St Valentine of Rome, there are some additions, such as St Valentine offering a fighting couple a rose and telling them to love each other because they only had one heart. 

[00:07:28] And there are variants of the story of St Valentine of Terni that are identical to St Valentine of Rome, for example that he conducted clandestine, secret, Christian marriage ceremonies for young Roman couples that weren’t allowed to be married in a Christian tradition.

[00:07:47] The reality is that there probably weren’t two St Valentines. 

[00:07:51] There might have been one, and the story has been told and retold, embellished as the years went on, with parts from other legends added.

[00:08:02] Fair enough, you might think, but why is it on February 14th, and how did it go from a Christian bishop being killed to a huge celebration of love and romance, and something that is quite far removed from any religion?

[00:08:19] Well, it did start out as a religious feast.

[00:08:22] The Feast of St Valentine was added to the Catholic religious calendar around the year 496, and celebrated this mythical St Valentine.

[00:08:34] There are some interesting theories about why the date of February the 14th was chosen.

[00:08:41] There’s no evidence that St Valentine was killed on or even around February 14th, and instead the theory goes that it was placed on that day to coincide with a pagan festival that was celebrated by the Romans called Lupercalia.

[00:09:00] The Christian church was trying to convert as many people as possible to Christianity, and turning a pagan celebration into a Christian one was a far simpler way of getting people onboard than just saying “ok, you can’t celebrate your Pagan festival now, you need to celebrate our Christian one on a different date”.

[00:09:21] Lupercalia was already a festival that celebrated fertility, and thus it wasn’t a huge jump to go from a festival that celebrated the act of reproduction through to one that celebrated a saint who had a strong romantic story.

[00:09:39] During the Roman feast of Lupercalia, Roman priests would meet at a cave where it was believed Romulus and Remus, the founders of Rome, had been brought up by a wolf. 

[00:09:52] They would then sacrifice a goat, they would kill a goat, they would skin it, they would cut off its skin and then dip the pieces of goatskin into blood. 

[00:10:05] After this they would walk through the streets of Rome with this bloody goatskin and slap women with it. 

[00:10:14] The idea was that this would make the women more fertile, more able to produce children in the coming year.

[00:10:23] Further to this, the young women of the city would put their name into a big jar, and the young, unmarried men would pick the names out, and matches would be formed, young men would be paired together with young women.

[00:10:38] So, it was in 496 AD that this pagan feast of Lupercalia was banned and replaced with the Feast of St Valentine, a celebration of the life of St Valentine.

[00:10:52] But, crucially, it was not immediately a celebration of love and romance at all.

[00:10:58] This wasn’t to come for several centuries, and many historians believe that the association with love and romance was first put forward by the English poet, Geoffrey Chaucer, in the 14th Century.

[00:11:13] The medieval era saw the development of something called courtly love, this idea that love was a powerful force that swept people up and caused them to do great, brave things to win over the objects of their desire. 

[00:11:29] Of course, this idea of courtly love is everywhere throughout medieval literature.

[00:11:36] At the time that Chaucer was writing, it was believed in England and France that mid-February was when birds choose their mate, they choose a partner, and when flowers start to bloom. 

[00:11:49] So mid-February, and Valentine’s Day, which is February 14th, became associated with love, coupling up, and reproduction. 

[00:11:59] Aristocrats started to write love letters to each other, and as the idea of February 14th being a celebration of love and romance continued to grow, this became a more and more important part of European culture.

[00:12:15] When it came to Shakespeare, in the early 17th Century, we can see the Valentine’s Day tradition clearly there, with Ophelia, one of the characters in Hamlet, saying that she was Hamlet’s Valentine.

[00:12:30] Hamlet was first published in 1609, and by this time the connection between Valentine’s Day and love was clearly established.

[00:12:40] With these connections now a part of much of Western European culture, it was just a question of the mass commercialisation of it that we are familiar with today.

[00:12:52] There’s evidence of this trend starting as early as the 1840s, when the tradition of sending Valentine’s Day cards started. 

[00:13:02] The cost of printing had reduced greatly, given the invention of the printing press, and improvements in the postal service had also reduced costs. 

[00:13:12] So, by the mid 19th Century it was comparatively easy and cheap to buy and send a Valentine’s card for a loved one. 

[00:13:22] And as shops started offering more and more expensive Valentine’s Day gifts, and chocolate manufacturers also got in on the game, these costs soon spiralled out of control

[00:13:35] In America, where Valentine’s Day is probably more commercialised than anywhere else in the world, people will spend $20 billion dollars on Valentine’s day, with the average Valentine’s Day gift costing $110.

[00:13:51] Indeed, it’s believed by many that the reason that Valentine’s Day is now such a big deal is in no small part because the companies that profit from it have spent hundreds of millions of dollars marketing it, promoting their products to make people feel bad if they aren’t spending large amounts of money on Valentine’s Day.

[00:14:14] Hallmark, the American card manufacturer, has been accused of pushing Valentine’s Day cards on young children, and essentially inventing the idea that kids at school should be sending Valentine's cards to each other, making it a competition about who received the most.

[00:14:34] For Hallmark, Valentine’s Day is the second biggest day in the year, after Christmas, for sending cards, with 145 million Valentine’s Day cards sent. 

[00:14:45] As you probably know, greeting cards are incredibly cheap to produce, and are very high margin, the companies make a lot of money from selling each one. 

[00:14:56] There are countless adverts leading up to Valentine’s Day encouraging us to spend, spend, spend, and placing the idea that you are a bad husband, boyfriend, wife or girlfriend if you aren’t treating your loved one to something special.

[00:15:12] And for people who aren’t in a relationship, Valentine’s Day can obviously be a difficult time of year. 

[00:15:20] This has led to several anti-Valentine’s Day holidays, some of which take place around February 14th, and others are on completely different dates.

[00:15:32] In the US there is something called Singles Awareness Day, which is a celebration of being single. 

[00:15:39] That happens on February 14th, on Valentine's Day, and the idea is that you make a toast of your single status, and presumably celebrate not being pressured to spend hundreds of dollars on cards, chocolate and roses.

[00:15:54] In China there’s something called Single’s Day, which is celebrated on November 11th. 

[00:16:01] The idea here is to treat yourself, to spend money on yourself, because nobody is buying presents for you. 

[00:16:08] This has actually morphed into the biggest spending day in the entire world, and is about two and a half times bigger than Cyber Monday, so although it might have started as an anti-Valentine’s Day, it’s really just a way to bag yourself a few bargains.

[00:16:28] And one that emerged out of a TV Series called Parks & Recreation is something called Galentine’s Day, which is celebrated on the day before Valentine’s Day. The idea here is that it’s a way for women to celebrate friendship, without any pressure or romantic implications

[00:16:48] And to explain the name, Gal is slang for ‘girl’, so it’s Valentine’s, just for gals - Galentine’s.

[00:16:56] So, that’s Valentine’s Day, and some of the theories that surround it. 

[00:17:01] It’s one of those traditions that is now observed by hundreds of millions of people around the world, that has most likely been pushed upon us by companies that profit from it, but that does have some interesting stories about its potential origins.

[00:17:16] And for those of us that might not like the idea of being pressured to spend on cards and roses that will end up in the rubbish bin just a few days later, or those who just don’t like the idea of the day in general, I guess we can be thankful that we don’t have to run through the streets of Rome with the bloody skin of a dead goat.

[00:17:39] OK then, that is it for today's episode on Valentine’s Day.

[00:17:44] I hope it's been an interesting one, that you've learnt something new, and that whatever you do on February 14th, whether you’re celebrating Valentine’s Day, or whether you are not, that you have a fantastic day.

[00:17:56] As always, I would love to know what you thought of this episode. Is Valentine’s Day celebrated in your country? 

[00:18:03] If so, how do you do it? 

[00:18:05] You can head right into our community forum, which is at community.leonardoenglish.com and get chatting away to other curious minds.

[00:18:13] And as a final reminder, if you are looking to improve your English in a more interesting way, to join a community of curious minds from all over the world, to unlock the transcripts, the subtitles, and key vocabulary, then the place to go to is leonardoenglish.com

[00:18:31] You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:18:37] I'm Alastair Budge, you stay safe, and I'll catch you in the next episode.


[END OF EPISODE]



[00:00:00] Hello, hello hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English. 

[00:00:11] The show where you can listen to fascinating stories, and learn weird and wonderful things about the world at the same time as improving your English.

[00:00:21] I'm Alastair Budge and today we are going to be talking about Valentine’s Day.

[00:00:27] This episode is set to be released on February the 12th, two days before a day that has become associated with romance and love across much of the world.

[00:00:37] So, in today’s episode we are going to talk about the history of this day, some of the not-very-romantic-at-all theories about where it originates and how it has developed into this huge commercial holiday. 

[00:00:53] It’s a fascinating story, and whether you’re listening to this just before Valentine’s Day or you want to surprise a loved one with some trivia, with some interesting facts, or you just want to listen to an interesting story, I hope you’ll enjoy today’s episode.

[00:01:09] Before we get right into that though, let me quickly remind you that you can get all of the bonus episodes, plus the subtitles, the transcript, and the key vocabulary for this episode and all of our other ones over on the website, which is leonardoenglish.com. 

[00:01:20] This is also where you can also check out becoming a member of Leonardo English, and join a community of curious minds from all over the world, doing meetups, exchanging ideas, and generally, improving their English in a more interesting way.

[00:01:40] So if that's of interest, and I certainly hope it is, then the place to go to is leonardoenglish.com.

[00:01:48] OK then, Valentine’s Day.

[00:01:51] I should start by saying that nobody really knows where Valentine’s Day definitively comes from. 

[00:01:59] If you read an article with a catchy title like “The Real Origins of Valentine’s Day”, you’ll probably learn about one of the theories about where Valentine’s Day comes from, but historians do not agree on the matter, and there are several ideas, all intriguing and interesting in their own right.

[00:02:20] It’s one of those things that we are probably never going to know the real origin of, and even going back to 1853 there was an article in the New York Times that described Valentine’s Day as, and I'm quoting directly here, “one of those mysterious historical or antiquarian problems which are doomed never to be solved.”

[00:02:44] So, instead of attempting to claim “Here’s where Valentine’s Day comes from”, in this episode we’ll talk about some of the more prominent theories, and you can decide for yourself which one sounds most plausible.

[00:02:59] The most common explanation for where Valentine’s Day comes from is from St Valentine, a man who was killed because of his dedication to love.

[00:03:09] But there are actually stories of two St. Valentines, two different legends of a Valentine who was martyred for his romantic actions, who was killed for his romantic deeds, and both of these stories have slightly different versions.

[00:03:28] Our first Valentine is a Christian priest called Valentinius, who lived in the 3rd Century AD, just north of Rome.

[00:03:38] The legend goes that Valentinius was arrested by the Roman Emperor Claudius for the crime of helping persecuted Christians.

[00:03:48] He was imprisoned by an aristocrat called Asterius. 

[00:03:52] While he was being held by Asterius, our priest Valentinius was allowed to preach, he was allowed to tell Asterius about Jesus Christ. 

[00:04:04] Asterius was captivated by what he heard about this miraculous Christ, and made a deal with Valentinius.

[00:04:12] If this Jesus Christ could cure Asterius’s daughter of blindness, if he could make her see again, then Asterius would free Valentinius.

[00:04:26] Valentinius put his hands over the blind daughter’s eyes, he said a prayer, and ta-da, the daughter could see.

[00:04:35] Asterius had seen the light, he had seen the power of God, and immediately converted to Christianity. 

[00:04:42] And of course, Valentinius was freed.

[00:04:46] When the Emperor got wind of this, when he heard about this story, he was furious and ordered for them all to be put to death. 

[00:04:55] Valentinius was thrown back into jail, but he had fallen in love with Asterius' daughter, and reportedly wrote her a love letter the night before he was to be executed.

[00:05:07] It was signed, ‘Your Valentine’, which has become a traditional way to sign a Valentine’s Card.

[00:05:15] There are numerous different versions of this story, with parts added and removed.

[00:05:21] One additional twist that appears in several versions is that Valentinius performed secret Christian marriage ceremonies for Roman soldiers who weren’t allowed to marry.

[00:05:33] The whole story is, of course, a little problematic. 

[00:05:37] Even if we skip over the part where Valentinius miraculously heals the blind daughter, the probability that Valentinius would have been able to get pen and paper in his jail cell would have been slim, it would've been quite small, and even if he could have, it’s very unlikely that a young woman in the 3rd Century AD would have been able to read, especially if she was blind just shortly beforehand.

[00:06:03] Nevertheless, this is one of the most prominent stories, and if we worried too much about the practical considerations of the origins of the feasts and celebrations that we know and love, life wouldn’t be that much fun.

[00:06:18] So, that’s our first St Valentine, St Valentinius of Rome.

[00:06:23] Our second theory of where Valentine’s Day comes from is about another St Valentine, but this time it’s St Valentine of Terni, a town about 75 kilometres to the north of Rome.

[00:06:37] The story about St Valentine of Terni actually dates from a similar time, in the third century AD, when Christianity was still very much considered a cult, not a mainstream religion.

[00:06:52] Valentinius of Terni was a Christian bishop with a similar story to Valentinius of Rome. 

[00:06:59] He tried to convert someone, he healed their child as proof of the power of Christianity, but was later executed by the Roman Emperor as punishment for trying to convert this person to Christianity.

[00:07:14] Like the story of St Valentine of Rome, there are some additions, such as St Valentine offering a fighting couple a rose and telling them to love each other because they only had one heart. 

[00:07:28] And there are variants of the story of St Valentine of Terni that are identical to St Valentine of Rome, for example that he conducted clandestine, secret, Christian marriage ceremonies for young Roman couples that weren’t allowed to be married in a Christian tradition.

[00:07:47] The reality is that there probably weren’t two St Valentines. 

[00:07:51] There might have been one, and the story has been told and retold, embellished as the years went on, with parts from other legends added.

[00:08:02] Fair enough, you might think, but why is it on February 14th, and how did it go from a Christian bishop being killed to a huge celebration of love and romance, and something that is quite far removed from any religion?

[00:08:19] Well, it did start out as a religious feast.

[00:08:22] The Feast of St Valentine was added to the Catholic religious calendar around the year 496, and celebrated this mythical St Valentine.

[00:08:34] There are some interesting theories about why the date of February the 14th was chosen.

[00:08:41] There’s no evidence that St Valentine was killed on or even around February 14th, and instead the theory goes that it was placed on that day to coincide with a pagan festival that was celebrated by the Romans called Lupercalia.

[00:09:00] The Christian church was trying to convert as many people as possible to Christianity, and turning a pagan celebration into a Christian one was a far simpler way of getting people onboard than just saying “ok, you can’t celebrate your Pagan festival now, you need to celebrate our Christian one on a different date”.

[00:09:21] Lupercalia was already a festival that celebrated fertility, and thus it wasn’t a huge jump to go from a festival that celebrated the act of reproduction through to one that celebrated a saint who had a strong romantic story.

[00:09:39] During the Roman feast of Lupercalia, Roman priests would meet at a cave where it was believed Romulus and Remus, the founders of Rome, had been brought up by a wolf. 

[00:09:52] They would then sacrifice a goat, they would kill a goat, they would skin it, they would cut off its skin and then dip the pieces of goatskin into blood. 

[00:10:05] After this they would walk through the streets of Rome with this bloody goatskin and slap women with it. 

[00:10:14] The idea was that this would make the women more fertile, more able to produce children in the coming year.

[00:10:23] Further to this, the young women of the city would put their name into a big jar, and the young, unmarried men would pick the names out, and matches would be formed, young men would be paired together with young women.

[00:10:38] So, it was in 496 AD that this pagan feast of Lupercalia was banned and replaced with the Feast of St Valentine, a celebration of the life of St Valentine.

[00:10:52] But, crucially, it was not immediately a celebration of love and romance at all.

[00:10:58] This wasn’t to come for several centuries, and many historians believe that the association with love and romance was first put forward by the English poet, Geoffrey Chaucer, in the 14th Century.

[00:11:13] The medieval era saw the development of something called courtly love, this idea that love was a powerful force that swept people up and caused them to do great, brave things to win over the objects of their desire. 

[00:11:29] Of course, this idea of courtly love is everywhere throughout medieval literature.

[00:11:36] At the time that Chaucer was writing, it was believed in England and France that mid-February was when birds choose their mate, they choose a partner, and when flowers start to bloom. 

[00:11:49] So mid-February, and Valentine’s Day, which is February 14th, became associated with love, coupling up, and reproduction. 

[00:11:59] Aristocrats started to write love letters to each other, and as the idea of February 14th being a celebration of love and romance continued to grow, this became a more and more important part of European culture.

[00:12:15] When it came to Shakespeare, in the early 17th Century, we can see the Valentine’s Day tradition clearly there, with Ophelia, one of the characters in Hamlet, saying that she was Hamlet’s Valentine.

[00:12:30] Hamlet was first published in 1609, and by this time the connection between Valentine’s Day and love was clearly established.

[00:12:40] With these connections now a part of much of Western European culture, it was just a question of the mass commercialisation of it that we are familiar with today.

[00:12:52] There’s evidence of this trend starting as early as the 1840s, when the tradition of sending Valentine’s Day cards started. 

[00:13:02] The cost of printing had reduced greatly, given the invention of the printing press, and improvements in the postal service had also reduced costs. 

[00:13:12] So, by the mid 19th Century it was comparatively easy and cheap to buy and send a Valentine’s card for a loved one. 

[00:13:22] And as shops started offering more and more expensive Valentine’s Day gifts, and chocolate manufacturers also got in on the game, these costs soon spiralled out of control

[00:13:35] In America, where Valentine’s Day is probably more commercialised than anywhere else in the world, people will spend $20 billion dollars on Valentine’s day, with the average Valentine’s Day gift costing $110.

[00:13:51] Indeed, it’s believed by many that the reason that Valentine’s Day is now such a big deal is in no small part because the companies that profit from it have spent hundreds of millions of dollars marketing it, promoting their products to make people feel bad if they aren’t spending large amounts of money on Valentine’s Day.

[00:14:14] Hallmark, the American card manufacturer, has been accused of pushing Valentine’s Day cards on young children, and essentially inventing the idea that kids at school should be sending Valentine's cards to each other, making it a competition about who received the most.

[00:14:34] For Hallmark, Valentine’s Day is the second biggest day in the year, after Christmas, for sending cards, with 145 million Valentine’s Day cards sent. 

[00:14:45] As you probably know, greeting cards are incredibly cheap to produce, and are very high margin, the companies make a lot of money from selling each one. 

[00:14:56] There are countless adverts leading up to Valentine’s Day encouraging us to spend, spend, spend, and placing the idea that you are a bad husband, boyfriend, wife or girlfriend if you aren’t treating your loved one to something special.

[00:15:12] And for people who aren’t in a relationship, Valentine’s Day can obviously be a difficult time of year. 

[00:15:20] This has led to several anti-Valentine’s Day holidays, some of which take place around February 14th, and others are on completely different dates.

[00:15:32] In the US there is something called Singles Awareness Day, which is a celebration of being single. 

[00:15:39] That happens on February 14th, on Valentine's Day, and the idea is that you make a toast of your single status, and presumably celebrate not being pressured to spend hundreds of dollars on cards, chocolate and roses.

[00:15:54] In China there’s something called Single’s Day, which is celebrated on November 11th. 

[00:16:01] The idea here is to treat yourself, to spend money on yourself, because nobody is buying presents for you. 

[00:16:08] This has actually morphed into the biggest spending day in the entire world, and is about two and a half times bigger than Cyber Monday, so although it might have started as an anti-Valentine’s Day, it’s really just a way to bag yourself a few bargains.

[00:16:28] And one that emerged out of a TV Series called Parks & Recreation is something called Galentine’s Day, which is celebrated on the day before Valentine’s Day. The idea here is that it’s a way for women to celebrate friendship, without any pressure or romantic implications

[00:16:48] And to explain the name, Gal is slang for ‘girl’, so it’s Valentine’s, just for gals - Galentine’s.

[00:16:56] So, that’s Valentine’s Day, and some of the theories that surround it. 

[00:17:01] It’s one of those traditions that is now observed by hundreds of millions of people around the world, that has most likely been pushed upon us by companies that profit from it, but that does have some interesting stories about its potential origins.

[00:17:16] And for those of us that might not like the idea of being pressured to spend on cards and roses that will end up in the rubbish bin just a few days later, or those who just don’t like the idea of the day in general, I guess we can be thankful that we don’t have to run through the streets of Rome with the bloody skin of a dead goat.

[00:17:39] OK then, that is it for today's episode on Valentine’s Day.

[00:17:44] I hope it's been an interesting one, that you've learnt something new, and that whatever you do on February 14th, whether you’re celebrating Valentine’s Day, or whether you are not, that you have a fantastic day.

[00:17:56] As always, I would love to know what you thought of this episode. Is Valentine’s Day celebrated in your country? 

[00:18:03] If so, how do you do it? 

[00:18:05] You can head right into our community forum, which is at community.leonardoenglish.com and get chatting away to other curious minds.

[00:18:13] And as a final reminder, if you are looking to improve your English in a more interesting way, to join a community of curious minds from all over the world, to unlock the transcripts, the subtitles, and key vocabulary, then the place to go to is leonardoenglish.com

[00:18:31] You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:18:37] I'm Alastair Budge, you stay safe, and I'll catch you in the next episode.


[END OF EPISODE]