Valentine’s Day is just around the corner. A day of pinks hearts, decorative sweets, romantic cards, and colorful flowers. What does any of this have to do with the actual Saint Valentine? Turns out, not much.
The origin of Saint Valentine and his significance to Valentine’s Day is a bit murky, but here is what I have learned. There are actually three Saint Valentine’s recognized by the Catholic church, which could explain some of the confusion. One of them was a priest during the Roman Empire under Claudius II. Claudius thought that young single men made better soldiers than married men, so he outlawed marriage. Valentine recognized that this was wrong and continued marriages for young couples in secret. When Claudius discovered this, he put Valentine to death. Another Valentine was imprisoned in a Roman jail, which was a brutal place. A young girl would visit him once in a while, rumored to be a jailer’s daughter, and they fell in love. Right before he was executed, Valentine wrote her a note and signed it “From your Valentine”, a saying that we use today and essentially becoming the first Valentine.
Some believe Valentine’s Day is celebrated on February 14th to honor the day that one of the Valentines died. Others believe that Christians moved Saint Valentine’s feast day to aligned with a pagan holiday celebrating fertility, called Lupercalia. It was a celebration where a goat and a dog would be sacrificed, their hides striped off and dipped in the sacrificial blood, then fields and women would be slapped with them for fertility and purification. Kinda twisted, but that’s what they did in the Roman Empire. Lupercalia was outlawed by Pope Gelasius in the end of the 5th-century because it wasn’t Christian enough and it was declared Saint Valentine’s Day instead. It wasn’t until the Middle Ages that February 14th became associated with romance, when France and England realized this date was the start of some animal mating seasons.
So what does any of this have to do with Valentine’s Day today? Well, not much. The holiday’s origins of true love, defying authority, and fertility have been lost in what now seems like an excuse to spend money or to expect gifts. According to the National Retail Federation in 2016, Americans spent about $19.6 billion on Valentine’s Day things like greeting cards, chocolates or candies, jewelry, flowers, and clothing. Retailers advertise, and advertise some more, the importance of expressing love with treats and jewelry and other expensive items. They do not care that most people are just paying off bills from Christmas or paying their taxes; they just want you to buy items from their stores. It has very little to do with expressing real love or appreciation for someone.
With each year that passes, I find myself more disgusted with all of the greed and gluttony advertised and encouraged. The National Retail Federation discovered in a 2016 study that most people participate in Valentine’s Day because they feel that they should do something, not because they want to. Moreover, those that plan to buy something for their partner expect their partner to spend more on them. Here are the top earners for Valentine’s Day: American Greeting Corporation, Flowers.com, Tiffany & Co. , The Hershey Company, and Limited Brands Co. We really have come a long way from secret marriages and love letters.
In my opinion, Valentine’s Day is a mid-February holiday meant to celebrate the feeling of love and a true connection to a partner. Spring is about a month away and the dullness of winter is getting brighter with each purple or pink heart taped to a window. Whether its origin is truly of secret loves and marriages or animal mating season, commercialism has taken over Valentine’s Day and distracted us from what love is. It is cannot be found in expensive jewelry, or in pounds of candies, or in sparkling wine, or in a greeting card. For me, it is found in the homemade card that my son makes, or the cookies we bake for my husband, or in the time we spend together as a family. This year, remember to keep it genuine. We’ve already fallen for the commercialization of Christmas and are just paying it off now. Don’t put yourself in debt in February, and anyone who expects you to is missing the point of the holiday.
Tytyk, Kimberly; Feb. 13, 2018; A History of the Consumerism of Valentine’s Day; https://stopad.io/blog/commercialization-of-valentines-day; StopAd Blog
Adname, Karim; Feb. 12, 2018; Valentine’s Day: A History of Commercialization; https://www.theodysseyonline.com/valentines-day-history-commercialization; Odyssey Online