The Thing About Today – February 14

February 14, 2020
Day 45 of 366


February 14th is the forty-fifth day of the year. It is Statehood Day in both Arizona and Oregon. It is also Valentine’s Day.

In the United States, it is “celebrated” as National Cream-Filled Chocolates Day, National Ferris Wheel Day, National Organ Donor Day, and No One Eats Alone Day. That last one changes days every year but is typically observed on a Friday in February.


Historical items of note:

  • In 1349, the Strasbourg Massacre occurred in France. As part of the ongoing Black Death persecutions, several hundred Jews were burned to death by mobs while the remaining Jews were forcibly removed. It was one of the first and worst pogroms in pre-modern history.
  • In 1778, the United States flag was formally recognized by a foreign naval vessel for the first time. French Admiral Toussaint-Guillaume Picquet de la Motte rendered a nine gun salute to USS Ranger, commanded by John Paul Jones.
  • In 1838, Margaret E. Knight was born. Among other things, she invented the flat-bottomed paper bag.
  • In 1847, Anna Howard Shaw was born. She was a physician and one of the first ordained female Methodist ministers in the United States. She was also a leader in the American women’s suffrage movement.
  • In 1849, James Knox Polk became the first serving President of the United States to have his photograph taken. The event occurred in New York City.
  • In 1859, George Washington Gale Ferris Jr. was born. An American engineer, he was the inventor of the Ferris wheel. Hence, National Ferris Wheel Day.
  • In 1876, Alexander Graham Bell and Elisha Gray both applied for a patent for the telephone.
  • In 1899, voting machines were approved by the United States Congress for use in federal elections.
  • In 1903, the United States Department of Commerce and Labor was established. It was later split into the Department of Commerce and the Department of Labor.
  • In 1912, The United States Navy commissioned the E-class submarine, its first class of diesel-powered submarines.
  • In 1921, journalist, game show host, and producer Hugh Downs was born.
  • In 1927, Lois Maxwell was born. She portrayed Miss Moneypenny in the first fourteen Eon-produced James Bond films.
  • In 1929, the Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre occurred. Seven people, six of them gangster rivals of Al Capone’s gang, were murdered in Chicago.
  • In 1931, Dracula starring Bela Lugosi was released.
  • In 1942, Andrew Robinson was born. He played Garak in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.
  • In 1944, journalist Carl Bernstein was born. Along with Bob Woodward, he did much of the original reporting on the Watergate scandal.
  • In 1951, journalist and radio host Terry Gross was born.
  • In 1961, Lawrencium, element 103 on the periodic table, was first synthesized at the University of California. It was later named in honor of Ernest Lawrence, inventor of the cyclotron, a device that was used to discover many artificial radioactive elements.
  • In 1963, actor Zach Galligan was born.
  • In 1970, actor Simon Pegg was born.
  • In 1990, the Voyager 1 spacecraft took the famous Pale Blue Dot photo at a record distance of six billion kilometers.
  • In 1991, Silence of the Lambs was released.
  • In 2005, YouTube was launched by Chad Hurley, Steve Chen, and Jawed Karim, each former employees of PayPal. The service was eventually sold to Google for $1.65 billion.


February 14th is Valentine’s Day.

Valentine’s Day originated as a Western Christian feast day honoring one or two early saints named Valentinus. Today it is recognized more as a cultural, religious, and commercial celebration of romance and romantic love.

There are many martyrdom stories that connect various Valentines to February 14. One account is that of Saint Valentine of Rome, who was imprisoned for performing forbidden weddings for soldiers and ministering to Christians persecuted under the Roman Empire. According to the legend, Saint Valentine restored sight to the blind daughter of his judge, and he wrote her a letter signed “Your Valentine” as a farewell before execution. In his honor as a martyr, the Feast of Saint Valentine was established by Pope Gelasius I in AD 496 to be celebrated on February 14.

Another is Valentine of Terni, a bishop of Interamna, supposedly martyred during the persecution under Emperor Aurelian in 273.

Romantic love entered the picture courtesy of Geoffrey Chaucer in the 14th century, a period of courtly love by tradition. In honor the first anniversary of the engagement of King Richard II of England to Anne of Bohemia, Chaucer wrote of love birds in Parlement of Foules (1382):

For this was on seynt Volantynys day
Whan euery bryd comyth there to chese his make.

The earliest description of February 14 as an annual celebration of love appears in the Charter of the Court of Love. The charter, allegedly issued by Charles VI of France in 1400, describes lavish festivities attended by members of the royal court, including a feast, amorous song, poetry competitions, jousting, and dancing.

Shakespeare mentioned Valentine’s Day in Hamlet (Act IV, Scene 5), circa 1600:

To-morrow is Saint Valentine’s day,
All in the morning betime,
And I a maid at your window,
To be your Valentine.
Then up he rose, and donn’d his clothes,
And dupp’d the chamber-door;
Let in the maid, that out a maid
Never departed more.

John Donne was inspired by the legend of the marriage of the birds when he wrote his epithalamion – a poem for the bride as she heads to her marital chamber – celebrating the marriage of Elizabeth, daughter of James I of England, and Frederick V, Elector Palatine.

Hayle Bishop Valentine whose day this is

All the Ayre is thy Diocese
And all the chirping Queristers
And other birds ar thy parishioners
Thou marryest every yeare
The Lyrick Lark, and the graue whispering Doue,
The Sparrow that neglects his life for loue,
The houshold bird with the redd stomacher
Thou makst the Blackbird speede as soone,
As doth the Goldfinch, or the Halcyon
The Husband Cock lookes out and soone is spedd
And meets his wife, which brings her feather-bed.
This day more cheerfully than ever shine

This day which might inflame thy selfe old Valentine.

The roses are red cliché has two strong historical anchors. First, The Faerie Queene (1590) by Edmund Spenser:

She bath’d with roses red, and violets blew,
And all the sweetest flowres, that in the forrest grew.

Second, Gammer Gurton’s Garland (1784) by Joseph Ritson:

The rose is red, the violet’s blue,

The honey’s sweet, and so are you.
Thou art my love and I am thine;
I drew thee to my Valentine:
The lot was cast and then I drew,

And Fortune said it shou’d be you.

In 18th-century England, the day grew into expressions of love by presenting flowers, offering confectionery, and sending greeting cards (giving birth to the term “valentines”). Handwritten valentines evolved into mass-produced greeting cards.

Today, symbols include heart-shaped outlines, doves, and Cupid. In Europe, Saint Valentine’s Keys are given to lovers as romantic symbols and invitations to unlock the giver’s heart, as well as to children to ward off epilepsy, which is called Saint Valentine’s Malady.

Saint Valentine’s Day is an official feast day in the Anglican Communion and the Lutheran Church. In the Eastern Orthodox Church, it is celebrated on July 6th and July 30th, the former date in honor of Saint Valentine, and the latter in honor of the Bishop of Interamna.

It is currently celebrated in various means and traditions around the world.


The Thing About Today is an effort to look at each day of 2020 with respect to its historical context.

For more creativity with a critical eye, visit Creative Criticality.




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