7 Valentine's Day Myths
Today it's time to find out how much you think you know about Valentine's Day. Around every holiday, every year, the Internet fills up with articles with a title similar to today's episode. Myths about Halloween, facts you didn't know about Christmas, what have you. And the quality of information in those articles is sometimes, well... questionable. And often the questions themselves are dumb ones, things that weren't really myths or that nobody was really wondering about. So I've put on my best thinking cap and come up with what I think are seven solid Valentine's Day myths. Some might be true, some might be false, some might be a mixture. But regardless, I hope you find it more engaging than the usual version.
We have to get started with the biggest one of all, the one that conspiracy theorists can't ever seem to get enough of:
1. Valentine's Day was invented by greeting card companies.
False. Not even close to true.
Valentine's Day has been around for a very long time — much longer than any greeting card company. Valentine of Rome was martyred in the year 269 CE, and he was canonized in 496. Since then, the day of his martyrdom — February 14 — has been the observance of the annual Feast of Saint Valentine among many Christian denominations. Around the year 1400 CE, give or take a century or so, the annual feast became more of a celebration of love. And that was long before any greeting card companies existed. Ever since then, people have been giving love-themed gifts on Valentine's Day. The greeting card companies jumped onto that market segment much, much later.
So how did this get to be such a popular, widely-believed myth? Simple — it's the perfect conspiracy theory. See how much money the greeting card companies make off of the holiday each year, and we turn to that age-old wisdom: "Follow the money."
But "follow the money" — while a popular trope — is rarely the best way to determine the truth of a conspiracy theory. Ambulance companies make money whenever there's a car accident, and if we followed the money there, we'd conclude that ambulance companies must be causing the car accidents to profit from them. Hallmark need not be the cause of Valentine's Day to effectively monetize it.
2. Valentine's Day comes from the Roman festival Lupercalia.
Also false — but also a pretty darn big coincidence.
In ancient Rome there was an annual spring fertility festival called Lupercalia, celebrated over three days, from February 13 to 15 — note that span includes Valentine's Day. On the final day of the festival, many of the priests would get naked and take strips of hide from the animals upon whom they had just feasted, and run around the city swinging them. Young women would try to get swatted with the strips, with the idea being that this would make them more fertile. Whatever floats your boat, I say.
Lupercalia was officially banned in 391 but continued for some time. Even 100 years later — about the time Saint Valentine's Feast began — the Pope and the Roman Senate still bickered over whether Lupercalia was an important Roman tradition or an irreligious farce. And so, with Lupercalia and Saint Valentine's Feast being on almost the same day, and with Lupercalia having been about fertility and the modern Valentine's Day being about love, many people have assumed a connection between the two.
But it's not so. Saint Valentine's Feast was on February 14 because that's the date of Valentine's martyrdom; not because it fell during Lupercalia. And Lupercalia had already been going for a long time before Valentine of Rome was even around; its date certainly had nothing to do with him. Further, the things the two days celebrated were nearly opposite: Lupercalia was an almost pagan fertility festival, while Saint Valentine's Feast celebrated Valentine's martyrdom for ministering to oppressed Christian worshipers.
3. Suicides are up around Valentine's Day.
Text or call 9-8-8, the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline. Support is a text away.
False, probably, but not certainly. This was a big surprise for me, as I'd always anecdotally heard that suicides are up on most such holidays.
If you turn to the Internet, articles about suicide and Valentine's Day are everywhere. It's just assumed. But few of these articles seem to be turning to the scientific literature to see if it's backed up or not.
The reason I give it a wishy-washy "false" is that I did find conflicting data. One thing that's for sure, though, is that homicides are definitely up around all the major holidays. And parasuicides are up as well — a parasuicide is one where you go through all the motions, often including actual self-harm, but without having the actual intent to kill yourself. The effect is seen most strongly in the days leading up to Valentine's Day, consistent with what researchers might be likely to hypothesize: that people experience increased anxiety and depression as Valentine's Day nears and they don't have a date; but then the day comes and they find they get through it without any real problem.
It's important to note that I did find one study which found no such increase in non-fatal self-harm leading up to Valentine's Day. This study was limited to central London in the late 1980s.
But as far as completed suicides go, the studies I found were generally older and looked at smaller data sets. Some found suicides slightly up around major holidays, and some found no such effect. In my experience, this usually means you can conclude that whatever effect there may be is in the background noise level of the data. However there is one other interesting effect that appears to be pretty solid: holidays tend to have a postponement effect on suicides — whether there are more suicides may be up for question, but those that do happen are pushed back from the days before the holiday until the days after the holiday. People who are contemplating suicide anyway may tend to wait and see how the holiday goes, and then when it goes as badly as they expected, they may follow through on their plans.
I do want to commend Google for one thing: When I was doing some searches relating to this topic, they put the national 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline number big and bold at the top of the results: 988. If you found this episode as a result of some searches because you or someone you know might be pondering this, please text or call 988 in the United States, or search your own country's similar service.
4. The ratio of male births to female births increases 9 months after Valentine's Day.
True. Although before doing the research, I would have bet anything this one is false.
We've had data for a long time indicating that in periods of increased coital rates — meaning (obviously) that couples are having more sex — the ratio of males to females born increases slightly. This was seen most dramatically at the end of the World Wars when all the service people came home. The reason for this is probably hormonal; males are conceived slightly more often at the beginning and end of the menstrual cycle, and females are conceived slightly more often in the middle of the cycle.
A 2019 article published in Early Human Development sought to learn whether the same effect is found around the holidays: specifically, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Valentine's Day. They studied data for over 53,000,000 live births between 2003 and 2015, and guess what? The same effect was found. There are, indeed, a higher ratio of male to female births 9 months after Valentine's Day... it's just not an effect that's unique to Valentine's Day.
5. Cupid uses his bow & arrow to make people fall in love.
True. But I was skeptical, as my preliminary research turned up one article claiming this one was false, and that Cupid was a mischievous character who did more harm than good.
Cupid is the Roman version of the Greek god of desire, Eros, and they're basically the same character. Eros was originally depicted as an athletic, slender lad with angel wings; but later came to look more like a chubby cherub. In the centuries before the rise of the Roman empire, Eros acquired his bow and arrow; so by the time Cupid was popular in Rome, he already had his appearance familiar to us today.
Cupid's bow and arrows were indeed the source of his power, which was to infect someone with an insatiable desire for someone else. The most famous myth featuring Cupid was one in which he was commissioned to shoot the goddess Psyche, and thus cause her to fall in love with the first creature she should see, which was intended to be a hideous beast. However, while preparing for the deed, Cupid accidentally scratched himself with his own arrow, thus causing himself to fall unappeasably in love with Psyche.
6. More breakups happen on Valentine's Day than any other day.
True — almost, it's not Valentine's Day itself but a two-week period around Valentine's Day, with the preceding Tuesday being the day deadliest to relationships — a day that has earned the name Red Tuesday.
In a 2004 paper published in Personal Relationships, researchers found that relationships were five times more likely to dissolve in that two-week period than in a non-holiday control period. They said:
So basically, Valentine's Day is of no danger to your relationship if it's solid. But if it's not, then the holiday will effectively help to accelerate the crumbling of your romantic world.
7. Valentine's Day is offensive to Muslims.
True. Here's an explanation from AboutIslam.net:
But what's not true is the context in which you may have heard this. Over the past few years, as political divisions drove both the left and the right to publish only the worst possible things they could come up with about each other, it had been repeatedly reported that school districts in left-leaning states were capitulating to Muslim demands that the offensive holiday be banned from schools, thus snubbing Christian students who did wish to celebrate it.
Snopes tracked a couple such claims down and found that they were all false. At the time that article was written, it appeared there was no evidence that any school in the United States has banned Valentine's Day celebrations at the behest of Muslims, although many school districts have long had policies banning classrooms from observing any religious holidays.
So there we have seven decent Valentine's Day myths. Challenge your friends with these and win bar drinks. I hope you enjoyed hearing these as much as I enjoyed researching them. And so, until next time, don't be in a doomed relationship near Valentine's Day.
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