Today is Valentine’s Day. I believe few people know its origins. It is named after St Valentine, who could be the Valentine of Rome, the Valentine of Terni or a third Valentine, all honoured on February 14. Valentine’s Day was established by Pope Gelasius I in 496 A.D. but was removed from the Roman calendar of saints in 1969 by Pope Paul VI though its religious observance is still allowed.

Neither of the Valentines was linked to sentimental love. In 1382, Geoffrey Chaucer, an English author wrote a poem called the Parliament of Fowles to honour the first anniversary of the engagement of King Richard II of England to Anne of Bohemia. This poem contains the first recorded association of Valentine’s Day with romantic love:

For this was Saint Valentine’s Day,
when every bird cometh there to choose his mate.

It was assumed that Chaucer was referring to February 14 as Valentine’s Day. However, mid-February is an unlikely time for birds to be mating in England. Chaucer could instead be referring to the Valentine of Genoa, whose Saints’ Day falls on 2 May.

A folklore was created in modern times to make the connection between Valentine’s Day and romance. In this story, Roman Emperor Claudius II found it difficult to grow his army because married men were unwilling to join the army due to their strong attachment to their wives and families. To solve the problem, he passed a law banning all marriages and engagements. A priest called Valentine defied this law by secretly performing marriage ceremonies for young men. When Claudius found out this, he had Valentine arrested and executed on 14 Feb, 278 A.D. For his great service, Valentine was named a saint after his death. American Greetings, the world’s largest greeting cards company, added a new element to this story. In this extended version, Valentine left a farewell note for the jailer’s daughter, whom he had befriended and healed, and signed it “From Your Valentine.” (Ref 1, 2) Many people have propagated this folklore as a historical fact when it is actually a product of modern invention.

Valentine’s Day equates to big business in Asia. It is interesting to learn that current traditions could have originated and become entrenched as a result of marketing strategies by companies. In Japan, Morozoff Ltd introduced Valentine’s Day in 1936 when it ran an advertisement aimed at foreigners. It began promoting the giving of heart-shaped chocolates in 1953. The custom that only women give chocolates to men on 14th Feb appears to have originated from the typo of a chocolate-company executive during the initial campaign. Women give iri-choko (obligatory chocolates) to male co-workers, chō-giri choko (ultra-obligatory cheap chocolates) to unpopular co-workers, honmei-choko (favorite chocolates) to a loved one and tomo-choko (friendly chocolates) to friends. In the 1980s, the Japanese National Confectionery Industry Association launched a successful campaign to get men give women white chocolates on 14th March in return. This day is hence called the White Day.

South Korea follows a similar tradition but expands it by making the 14th of every month a love-related day. On Black Day (14th April), those who did not receive anything on the 14th of Feb or March go to a Chinese restaurant to eat black noodles and “mourn” their single life. The 15th of each month from May to Jan is called Rose Day, Kiss Day, Silver Day, Green Day, Music Day, Wine Day, Movie Day, Hug Day and Candle Day respectively. In Taiwan, the order is reversed with men giving gifts to women on Valentine’s Day and women returning the favour on White Day. This is a good case study of how modern-day traditions can spread across geographical borders, driven by commercialization.

Coming back to home turf, Hobsons Bay is recently crowned the Capital of Romance by the Leader newspapers (Ref 3). The “Leader’s Cash for Comment” survey, which asked people across Melbourne about what makes them happy and what bothers them, found that 20% of Hobsons Bay people in relationships think their partner is “extremely romantic”, compared to just 14 per cent of people across Melbourne.

Where have you spent your Valentine’s Day? There is one place in Hobsons Bay that would probably be most remotely linked to romance in the minds of most people. One very humorous and entertaining newspaper article was written, right after Julia Gillard became the Prime Minister. Quoting from this article:

Julia Gillard has done one great thing since she got in to power. And no, it’s not settle the mining tax issue or give redheads credibility….No, she’s put Altona on the map………… now with Julia Gillard, the new Queen of Altona, the crowds are about to turn up. It’s only a matter of time before visiting stars like Clive Owen will be seen having a beer and a schnitzel at the Millers Inn. The trendsetters will follow. Sam Newman will tie up his boat on the foreshore, Paul Kelly will write a song about Pier Street………….

And world leaders will have to come to her. When Barack Obama finally gets here, he’ll have to head straight to Altona via the Tullamarine and then the West Gate Bridge. And what a schedule he’ll have. First a walk around Cherry Lake to stretch those legs. Then a visit to the Altona miniature railway……Then Obama could take a walk along the beach, drop in on the Angling Club and meet eight Maltese guys called Joe. Finally, dinner at the Altona RSL, but stick to schedule as meals are only on between six and eight.

If Obama wants to get all romantic with Michelle, he can park the limo near the refinery and take in the twinkling lights and the burning off towers.

Altona Refinery Night Lightings
Photo by Mugley
Click the photo to enlarge and again to return to this page.

Don’t write off this suggestion as sometimes, the most memorable memories happen in the least expected situations and places. For example, in the movie Titanic, one of the most passionate scenes took place in the cargo room.