Why do we hold Valentine’s Day, the day to celebrate hot romance, in the middle of cold snowy February?
What in the past made our ancestors decide that blizzards were the climate for love? Believe me, after shoveling the snow from my driveway, nothing – and I do mean nothing – is further from my mind than romance. So why is this holiday scheduled at such a frigid time of the year?
SOURCE – U.S. National Science Foundation
The answer is that the climate we are experiencing today is not necessarily the original weather people were experiencing when they created a romantic tradition for Valentine’s Day. Let’s look at the history and the weather.
Saint Valentine’s Day was established in an attempt to overshadow a distasteful Roman fertility festival – Lupercalia. Priests would sacrifice two male goats and a dog. Two of the priests would get dabbed in blood, make strips of the sacrifices’ skins, and dip the strips in blood. They would then run around town smacking women with the bloody strips. (Supposedly this made the ladies fertile.) No wonder it was replaced with flowers and chocolate! In 496 AD Pope Gelasius I suggested replacing the whole mess with a nice saint’s day.
Centuries went by. There are no records of people feeling particularly lovey-dovey on February 14. Then, in 1382, Geoffrey Chaucer, a popular English poet wrote, "For this was Saint Valentine's Day, when every bird cometh there to choose his mate." Historian Jack B. Oruch finds this the first literary reference to Valentine’s Day and romance and concludes that Chaucer is probably the original mythmaker.
What makes the myth more humorous is that another historian, Henry Ansgar Kelly, claims Chaucer was referring to May 3, the day for St. Valentine of Genoa, not the frosty February St. Valentine of Rome’s date. Think about it – if you were a bird would you be frolicking in winter or spring?
Others point to the time that Chaucer wrote his poem – the end of the Medieval Warm Period (MWP). The above chart shows this period which represents anecdotal European climate, not necessarily global temperatures. Some theorize that those days may have been warm enough for hearts and birds to flutter in February.
For modern romantics, most portions of the US are finally beginning to warm – except the Great Lakes and Northeast, where you are being clobbered by an Alberta Clipper snowstorm. But whether you are basking in the 70°s in the Southwest or snuggled in front of a cozy New England fireplace – Happy Valentine’s Day!
(How's your Valentine's Day weather? To share, just comment in the box below!
Evelyn Browning Garriss, historical climatologist, is a longtime writer for The Old Farmer's Almanac. She is also editor of The Browning World Climate Bulletin and has advised farmers, businesses, and investors worldwide on upcoming climate events and their economic and social impact for the past 21 years.