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PRI's Environmental News Magazine

The Living on Earth Almanac

Air Date: Week of February 11, 2000

This week, facts about the origin and folklore surrounding St. Valentine's day.


CURWOOD: February fourteenth is the holiday of love, though it honors a man who died on that day. St. Valentine was beheaded on February fourteenth in the year 269 A.D. Emperor Claudius of Rome ordered the execution because the saint was caught performing marriages during wartime, which was outlawed, and so the day's association with lovers. The celebration of love on February fourteenth continued in Medieval Europe in conjunction with the mating habits of birds. Several writers note the seasonal milestone. An excerpt from this translation of Chaucer's The Parliament of Fowls reads, "For this was on St. Valentine's great day, when every bird comes forth for pairing's sake, of every kind that man imagine may, and think how huge a clamor did they make." It was custom for young women to foretell what type of man they would marry by what type of bird they first saw on the fourteenth. For instance, if she spotted a yellow bird such as a goldfinch, she would marry a rich man. If she saw a sparrow, she'd wed a farmer. A dove meant a good man. A crossbill an argumentative man. And if she spied a woodpecker, well, then, she never would have a husband. And for this week, that's the Living on Earth Almanac.



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