Valentine's Day has grown to celebrate more than just romantic love.  It has become a day to celebrate love in general.  But what is its origin?

The feast of St. Valentine was first established in 496 by Pope Gelasius I.  There is more than one Catholic saint that bears the name Valentine so a true identity is unknown but it is believed that February 14 is the date of a martyrdom.  St. Valentine, however, has been associated with love only since the Middle Ages.  It is in English poet Geoffry Chaucer's (1343-1400) poem Parlement of Fowles that we find a reference to love and St. Valentine.

During the Middle Ages it was believed that birds paired in mid-February.  Within the Chaucer poem the narrator dreams of three tercel (male) eagles that wish for the hand (or talon) of a formel (female) eagle. The three tercels make their case before the goddess of Nature.  Birds of the lower estates begin to protest and launch into a parliamentary debate.
(The Goddess) Nature...began to speak in a gentle voice: "Birds, take heed of what I say; and for your welfare and to further your needs I will hasten as fast as I can speak. You well know how on Saint Valentine's day, by my statute and through my ordinance, you come to choose your mates, as I prick you with sweet pain, and then fly on your way. But I may not, to win this entire world, depart from my just order, that he who is most worthy shall begin.
Nature ends the debate by allowing the formel free will in the decision.  None of the tercels win, however, for Nature also grants the formel's request to put off her decision for another year.  (Female birds of prey often become sexually mature at one year of age, males only at two years.)  Nature does allow the other birds to pair off.  
And when this work was all brought to an end, Nature gave every bird his mate by just accord, and they went their way. Ah, Lord! The bliss and joy that they made! For each of them took the other in his wings, and wound their necks about each other, ever thanking the noble goddess of nature.
And then the birds sang.
"Saint Valentine, throned aloft,
Thus little birds sing for your sake:
Welcome, summer, with sunshine soft,
The winter's tempest you will shake!

Good cause have they to glad them oft,
His own true-love each bird will take;
Blithe may they sing when they awake,
Welcome, summer, with sunshine soft,
The winter's tempest you will break,
And drive away the long nights black!"

This is only a portion of a translation of the poem.  If you are interested in reading Parlement of Fowles in its entirety, you can find it here (or the translation here). 

It is fitting that the true origin of St. Valentine, and the enduring holiday, are a mystery.  After all, we can say the same of love itself.

Wishing all, a loving Valentine's Day.  Hugs all around.


It's crazy.  February is here already and Valentine's Day is less than two weeks away.  If you are looking for a book with a heart, and a brain, for a wee Valentine, How to Grow Hippo! might fill the bill.  In it Jack, based on author Becky Schantz's son, learns about the power of love.  And there's a hippopotamus involved!  What's not to like?  Check it out on Amazon here.

Did You Know...

  • The closest living relative of hippos (hippopotamidae) are whales, dolphins and porpoises (cetaceans).  Not pigs as was thought at one time.
  • The earliest hippo fossils date to around 16 million years ago.
  • One of the largest reported hippos weighed almost 6,000 lbs. The mean adult weight for a male is 3,300 lbs and 2,900 lbs for females.
  • Hippos cannot jump but can run up to 19 mph for short distances.
  • The skin of a hippopotamus is 2 inches thick.  It secretes a red colored substance that acts as a natural sunscreen.  It has often been referred to as "blood sweat" but is neither.
  • Hippos can sleep under water, rising to the surface to breathe without waking.  Their nostrils close prior to submerging.
  • The hippo life span can be 40-50 years.
  • Hippopotamuses are a “vulnerable” species, one step down from “endangered” in its ranking of extinction risk.  

Your local library is a good source for more information on hippos and so much more.  Check it out. (Pun intended, of course.)