Mythbuster (or, maybe more perzactly, myth-reminder) for this scarlet-hearted day: Valentines weren't invented by Hallmark any more than Coca-Cola birthed Christmas cards.
Somewhat as with the Yuletide season, the origins of St. Valentine's Day became smothered under contemporary notions of togetherness and love, with a slightly more hot-blooded emphasis on eros than agape, giving gifts once thought to inspire passion — chocolates, sweet-smellin' stuff, pretty-soundin' words — favored over those given for St. Nick's day, the things that go bing and require assembly and the 17 AAA batteries you forgot on your Target run.
Chaucer and his drinking buddies looped the Feast of St. Valentine in with romance, aka courtly love, aka gettin' down, scribbling their best work in the 14th century, more than 500 years before the founding of Hallmark cards, and about 600 years before the first Hallmark movie gave B-stars a reason to go on paying taxes.
There's some confusion about Saint Valentine, because that wacky Roman Catholic Church canonized dudes named V up into the double digits. But the big V, St. Valentine of Rome, was martyred Feb. 14, 269.
It was St. V himself — by legend — who wrote the first Valentine, to a once-blind woman whose sight he'd restored, presumably so she could read his Valentine, that twitter-pated goof. Big (and miraculous) of him, considering she was child of the justice who'd locked Valentinus away. You could even describe such behavior as saintly. On execution morn, he wrote newly-sighted Name Lost to Time a savory goodbye note, signing it "Your Valentine."
Another legend: This St. V ministered to Christians persecuted under Roman rule — aka all of them — and performed weddings for soldiers, who were at the time forbidden to marry. Funny how often oppressive regimes seek to crush folks seeking to legally hook up with those they love.
The legend goes on to say St. V cut heart-shapes out of parchment, passing these out to the soldiers in lieu of pay, reminding them that the bloody Romans would literally cut out their freaking hearts.
No, wait: to remind them to be faithful in love, or something.
Legend, that shaky reporter, does not seem to recall if they were anatomically-cut blood muscles, or the more familiar upside-down buttocks shape utilized in contemporary times, as a subtle commentary on the gist of courtly love, aka gettin' down.
The Feast of St. Valentine began a couple hundred years after his martyrdom, Feb. 14, 496 in Rome, or 1,400-something years before Hallmark. Historians differ and dicker on whether St. Valentine's Day ran headlong — backwards ... headlong backwards? — into Lupercalia, the ancient Roman festival once celebrated Feb. 15, much as Christmas did with also-ARF Saturnalia, a massive gift-giving throwndown spanning Dec. 17 to Dec. 23.
Lupercalia celebrated Romulus and Remus, mythical wolf-raised founders of Rome, and nature-agriculture god Faunus. The Luperci, Roman priests, would huddle at the cave where R&R were said to have been brought up by lupa, she-wolf. The assembled Luperci would merrily sacrifice animals, like you do, and then loan the hides to men to whip their women with, as an aide to fertility, like you what now?
Like you really, really don't.
Then, because things hadn't zoomed up to Bonkersland quickly enough, all the single ladies would write names down on slips of paper and place them in an urn (What's a Roman urn? About two denarii an hour). Dudes would draw 'em out, and everyone would pair up. So like a more passive-aggressive Sadie Hawkins thing, or early Match.com. Again, misty-eyed legend does not tell us if the males far too often responded with unasked-for etchings of their private parts. But one can assume.
This was about 800 years before the first Feast of St. Valentine, so more than two millennia before Hallmark.
The flowers, candy and cards associations evolved in the 18th century, roughly 200 years before Hallmark. Folks wrote or drew love letters by hand, until some clever (pre-Hallmark) printer started mass-manufacturing Valentine cards around about the 19th century.
Don't blame (hall) marketeers because it's in human nature to cash in on human laziness. Put down the sacrifice hides, and pick up a quill. That way, if you fail, when you fail, probably spectactularly, you at least fail non-mass-marketed, a spectacular personal flop.
Reach Tusk Editor Mark Hughes Cobb at firstname.lastname@example.org or 205-722-0201.