Saturday, February 17, 2024

Happy [Belated] Valentine's Day, Oh Love of My Life


Happy Valentine's Day.

If you don't know to whom I'm addressing this post, I'm at least in the clear with you.  Or so I hope.  You see, today being Friday [when I'm writing this] means I'm in Seattle -- a big shout out to Ingrid Thoft who surprised me at my Third Place Books event last night. Or is it Chicago?  No, that's tomorrow [Saturday].  I'm so confused, which turns out to be my alibi for neglecting to send a card, much less flowers, to my Valentines on Wednesday when I was in Los Angeles [I think.]

Okay, enough with the grovelling. Now's the time to appease, by discussing the non-candy and flowers history of the Day.
Since this is a site hosted by crime writers, you might think I’m about to plunge into a discussion of the most famous bloody Valentine’s Day ever, February 14, 1929.  That’s when members of Al Capone’s South Side Gang—some dressed as cops—lined up seven men affiliated with Bugs Moran’s North Side Gang inside a garage and shot them dead as part of a war for control of organized crime in Prohibition-era Chicago. 

But you’d be wrong, for this piece is about hearts and flowers.  No, ye cynics, not bullets through the heart and flowers for a funeral, but those bouquets you give to your beloved on the 14th of February—or risk consequences unmentionable in civilized society.

Yes, chocolates (a rumored aphrodisiac) and cards (did you know the first card was written in the form of a poem from a royal prisoner in the Tower of London to his wife?—even he knew forgetting was not an option) are also big Valentine’s Day favorites, too, but this is about flowers.

Charles, Duke of Orleans and first Valentine's Day card sender

But first a bit of history on how lovers became so obsessed with VD—hmm, any wonder why that acronym never caught on?

One legend says it began during a time of religious persecution in third century Rome, when Emperor Claudius II outlawed marriage for soldier-age young men.  Single men fought better, he thought. [Ed. Note: With great will power I resisted inserting a joke here.] 

A young priest thought that unfair, and kept performing marriages in secret.  When Claudius discovered the priest’s violation of his edict, the Emperor sentenced him to death.  While in prison, the priest befriended and healed his jailer’s blind daughter, and before being put to death—on February 14, 270—sent a letter to her signing it “From Your Valentine.”

Yep, Valentine was his name, and the legend goes on to say that in 496, after Valentine had been sainted, Pope Gelasius declared February 14th as a day to honor his memory as the patron saint of happy marriages, engaged couples and young people.

That’s disputed though, for some claim the date corresponds to the Roman fertility celebration of Lupercalia held between February 13th and 15th, and others claim it relates more to the period on the ancient Athenian calendar dedicated to the marriage of Zeus and Hera.   You knew I’d work the Greeks in here somewhere.

Lupercalia by Beccafumi

But it’s undisputed that the romantic love connotation to Valentine’s Day began in the 14th Century with this simple line by one rather influential writer:
Translation available via Glasgow

Still, it wasn’t until the early 1700s that flowers became a tradition on Valentine’s Day. That’s generally attributed to Charles II of Sweden’s introduction to Europe of the Persian custom of the “language of flowers.”  Each flower had its own meaning, a sort of secret code between the sender and recipient.

And with the rose symbolizing passion and love, it’s no wonder roses are the number one best seller every Valentine’s Day (257 million in the US in 2014).  But there are other flowers finding their way to Valentines, and for those of you wondering just what your beloved may have meant by those flowers that arrived at your doorstep Wednesday, here’s a list of meanings.

Just don’t shoot the messenger.

By the way, Valentine’s Day isn’t a big deal in Greece.  No reason to be, Greece gave Eros to the world.  Now it’s only looking to get some love back in return.

Happy Valentine’s Day, Barbara, Karen, Jennifer, Gavi, and Rachel. Okay, Jon, Terry, and Azi, too. And of course to….


Jeff’s Upcoming In Person events:

Saturday, February 17, 2:00 p.m. CT
Hellenic American Women’s Council
Lincolnwood Public Library
Author Speaking and Signing
4000 Pratt Avenue
Lincolnwood, IL

Wednesday, February 21, 6:00 p.m. ET
Mysterious Bookshop
Author Speaking and Signing
New York, NY

Friday, February 23, 7:00 p.m. ET
Mystery Lovers Bookshop
Author Speaking and Signing
Pittsburgh, PA

Thursday, February 29, 7:00 p.m. PT
Vroman’s Bookstore
Author Speaking and Signing
Pasadena, CA

Saturday, March 9, 3:00 p.m. CT
Murder By The Book
Author Speaking and Signing
Houston, TX



  1. Say, Bro, what do you think?Since all the history that you relate about the invention of Valentine’s Day were acts of men, perhaps all those stereotypes of women getting angry if they don’t get flowers and chocolates might be misplaced. Perhaps, the current “requirement “ is an invention of men, who want to show they love or desire while remaining tough guys and not the soft hearted swains they actually are.

    1. Sis, I can’t speak to “stereotypes of women getting angry if they don’t get flowers and chocolates,” because I never had any knowing VD dealings with any of that sort. :).

  2. I knew something about Saint Valentine, but I never knew that Chaucer contributed to our celebration of the day of lovers on February 14. Thanks for that bit of info, Jeff!

    1. That Geoffrey was a sly sort. :). Jeff

  3. Very interesting stuff I didn't know about, thanks!

    1. My knowing something you didn’t, blows my mind, Ovidia. 😎

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