Was Valentine's Day Once Warmer?

The Medieval Warm Period and The Little Ice Age

February 12, 2019
Courtly Love
Edmund Blair Leighton

When Valentine’s Day (on February 14) became popular in the Middle Ages, the climate was warmer than it is now! Birds mated. Flowers bloomed. And love blossomed. If it had been wintry weather, would this holiday still be the same today? Learn more about the Medieval Warm Period.

Identifying past weather patterns is always somewhat controversial, but history seems to show that a thousand years ago, the weather was very warm in Europe compared to today.

Greenland really had some green pastures, and Vikings ran cattle. During this period, springtime in Italy frequently began in mid-February.

And poems describing the weather in England sound like sunny Italy.

Chaucer, widely considered the greatest poet of the Middle Ages, associated the feast of St Valentine with the mating impulses of birds—which were thought to begin looking for their mates on February 14.

Indeed, the feast of St Valentine has been associated with love since the Middle Ages.

The Medieval Warm Period

This warmer climate around the turn of the twentieth century has become known as the Medieval Warm Period (MWP), since it coincides with the Middle Ages in Europe. Possible causes of the Medieval Warm Period include increased solar activity, decreased volcanic activity, and changes to ocean circulation.

This warm period was followed by a decline of temperature levels. This was called “The Little Ice Age” because it was the coldest phase since the last ice age occurred

 


Image: A thousand years ago, European weather was very warm. 

 

Originally, the Romans had a mid-February fertility festival, Lupercalia, to celebrate the change of seasons. In 496 AD, Pope Gelasius I replaced the rather raunchy affair with a saint’s day: St. Valentine’s Day. See the Almanac’s wonderful Valentine’s Day page.

That should have ended everything. St Valentine was a nice guy who was kind to children, helped the early Christians, and was executed on February 14. There was nothing lusty about him. (However, some legends say he healed and befriended his jail keeper’s daughter and sent her a farewell note “From your Valentine.”)

So, what do you get when you combine a romantic saint and the beginning of spring? A mushy mid-February holiday! 

By the Medieval Warm Period, societies from England to Italy cheerfully celebrated his saint’s day with villages pairing up young men and women for dances and dalliance. 

Solar Winter Has Ended

Technically, solar winter ends on February 5. This is the (darkest) quarter of the year with the least amount of daylight for the Northern Hemisphere. It lasts from November 5 to February.

We’re entering the time of year where the sun’s rays are getting stronger in the Northern Hemisphere. Between now and April, day length across the Northern Hemisphere will grow at its quickest rate.


Solar winter, the darkest quarter of the year , officially ends on February 5. SOURCE: NASA

Of course, with both our air and ocean temperatures, there is always a phenomenon called ‘seasonal lag.’ The warmth from the summer and fall months carries into the first part of winter, just like the cold from winter will carry into the first part of spring.

Even in the Little Ice Age, people noticed that the days were becoming sunnier. It might have been hard to gather flowers, but romance continued to bloom on February 14.

In 2019, despite some cold snaps, the winter has been mild on average for most regions thus far. Spring may not have arrived yet but it is definitely in the air. No matter the weather, here’s wishing for a warm, romantic Valentine’s Day!

What do you expect for February 14? A medieval warm spell or a blast of a little ice age? Check your 7-day weather forecast.

About This Blog

The column, “Weather Whispers,” is authored by James Garriss and Evelyn Browning Garriss, historical climatologists and weather addicts!  Whether you enjoy the science of weather or the fascinating folklore or just fun weather phenomena, it’s probably covered by these weather watchers!

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