History and Culture

A guidl Valentine's

Joe Butler
January 17, 2024
5 min read
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As the fourteenth of February rapidly approaches, many of us find ourselves wondering how to make Valentine's Day special for our loved ones. It can be tricky to position yourself. Some dismiss the concept as commercialised sentimentality, whilst others argue it gives an excuse to not appreciate your loved ones on the remaining three hundred and sixty four days of the year. Additionally, with so many options available, it can be tough to decide on the perfect way to celebrate.  

Personally, I've been in this position many times. But this year, I wanted to do something different. I began (as I often do) by looking at history for inspiration. 'The Rest is History' podcast did a fascinating episode on St. Valentine's Day back in 2022 and revealed its murky origins. Not only are there two St Valentine's, there does not appear to be anything linking him to love or romance. St Valentine, in the most common version, was an Italian bishop who was martyred on the fourteenth of February by Emperor Claudius, for refusing to renounce his Christianity.  

Some argue that the first link between romance and St Valentine's Day came from the English medieval poet, Geoffrey Chaucer. In his 'Parlement of foules' poem, the narrator emerges from the Temple of Venus onto an idyllic field. It is St Valentine's Day, and the eponymous fowls (birds) are picking their mates. Chaucer was writing as King Richard II had just married, at a time of chivalric romance and courtly love and some argue this cemented the holiday into one associated with love and courtship. Perhaps February, at the beginning of Spring and end of winter, touched on well-trodden themes of rebirth and growth and St Valentine's Day was a convenient day to mark this?  

The link might go back further and have roots in ancient Roman tradition. There was an ancient fertility festival called 'Lupercalia' which was celebrated in mid-February. The Lupercal was the name of the cave where Romulus and Remus were raised by a wolf, before they went on to found Rome. It could be thought as the city's womb. According to tradition young men and women would strip naked, follow a path from the Lupercal, around the Palatine Hill and back to the cave, whipping each other with goat skin as they went. This was supposed to aid fertility in the coming year.

This I found interesting, but not something appropriate for 2024. I decided to look to the internet for inspiration. The London guide has a list of one hundred and one romantic things to do. What really makes something romantic? I thought, as I tried to distil the activities into its essence. It seemed to be having an experience together; a meal, a show, a walk, a view, a lesson, or a laugh. The experience itself seemed irrelevant, but the fact that it was shared. Whether we find a particular experience romantic might reflect how much it captures our 'love language' (the theory that we all have a primary means of communicating our love, whether that be through compliments, quality time, gifts, acts of service or physical touch). If Wikipedia is to be believed however, love languages being a credible concept is far from certain.

I can only speak for myself, but I think that true romance comes from sharing experiences and using that to create meaningful connections. For me that can be as simple as a walk; some of my treasured memories with my wife have come from our state-approved walks around deserted Oxford during the UK's first National COVID lockdown. For the first time, we noticed the hidden parks and quaint alleyways we had previously passed without a second glance. We looked up and pointed out gargoyles and stunning architectural details to each other.  

That's where I hope guidl might come in. By using guidl on a jaunt or exploration together, you and your partner can learn about the history, culture and hidden gems of your area. Perhaps one day you might use guidl to retrace the path of the Lupercalia, or explore Chaucer's poetry, or even see the man himself, a relic of St Valentine at Whitefriar Street Church in Dublin. If you're thinking about celebrating Valentine's Day this year, consider using guidl to plan a special walk or exploration with your loved one. You might just discover something new about each other and the world around you.

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