valentine

val·en·tine (văl’ən-tīn′)
n. 1) a) A sentimental or humorous greeting card sent to a sweetheart, friend, or family member, for example, on Saint Valentine's Day. b) A gift sent as a token of love to one's sweetheart on Saint Valentine's Day. 2) A person singled out especially as one's sweetheart on Saint Valentine's Day.
[After Saint VALENTINE(Cf. Valentine).]
Word History: Lovers and the greeting card industry may have Geoffrey Chaucer to thank for the holiday that warms the coldest month. In the late 1300s, we begin to find the first clear references to a tradition relating February 14, St. Valentine's Day, to romantic love: St. Valentine's Day is the day on which the birds, returning in the very early spring, choose their mates. (Spring was often thought to begin in the middle of February in 14th-century Europe.) Although reference books abound with references to Roman festivals from which St. Valentine's Day may derive, there is in fact very little evidence of such a connection between ancient pagan customs and the modern holiday. Moreover, there are several saints named Valentine in the Christian tradition, but there is nothing in particular in the life stories of any of these Valentines that might have inspired the late medieval traditions surrounding St. Valentine's Day. The scholar Jack B. Oruch has therefore suggested that Chaucer was probably the first to link the saint's day with the custom of choosing sweethearts. No such link has been found before the writings of Chaucer and several literary contemporaries who also mention it, but after them the association becomes widespread. Oruch proposes that Chaucer, the most imaginative of his literary circle, invented it. The earliest description of the tradition may occur in Chaucer's Parlement of Foules, composed around 1380, which takes place on Seynt Valentynes day, / Whan every foul [bird] cometh there to chese [choose] his make [mate].

Word Histories. 2014.

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