Valentine’s Day: A Long Way from its Origin

by Emily

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On February 14th 2013, about 150 million cards will be mailed, about $1.5 billion dollars worth of chocolate will be purchased, and 110 million flower deliveries will be made. Citizens in the United States, Canada, Mexico, the United Kingdom, France and Australia will spend the day with family or a loved one to celebrate a holiday dedicated to those they care about.

Unlike other holidays, Valentine’s Day’s tradition is unique because the activities need little explanation. It’s almost a given that on February 14th, the colors pink and red, chocolate, or flowers will somehow make their way into your day. You could hear an exchanging of Valentines wishes or spend money on those you care about. Whether you choose to participate or not, Valentine’s Day seems unavoidable.

But why, on February 14th, have chocolate, flowers, and cards expressing love become so popular? This Valentine’s Day, the 150 million card receivers and 110 million flower deliverers will have a vague idea of why exactly this came to be.

The true history of Valentine’s Day is vague because three accounts of Saint Valentine exist in recorded history. The term “Valentine” actually comes from a priest named Valentinus who lived in ancient roman times. When the Emperor of Rome forbade marriage for young men in hopes that they would become soldiers, Valentinus recognized the unjust nature of this and took action to rebell against the powerful government. Valentinus would conduct illegal weddings of young lovers, therefore becoming a symbol of love. Once the Emperor uncovered these secret affairs, Valentinus was immediately put to death. This explains the name of the holiday, but not the specific date of February 14th.

The entire month of February was once celebrated in Christian and Roman civilizations as a tribute to the fertility Gods. However it wasn’t until the end of the 5th century when Pope Gelasius finally acknowledged St. Valentine’s Day on February 14th. February 14th was the believed beginning of the birds’ mating season, so therefore a very symbolic day to celebrate love. For centuries, on this day, it was tradition to give small tokens of affection. According History.com, it wasn’t until the 1900’s that printed cards and heart shaped candies began to replace written letters and a loaf of bread. And today, this has spiraled to hundreds of accessible Valentine’s gifts,ranging from a box of candy to diamond earrings.

In my opinion, Valentine’s Day has unfortunately lost its true meaning and become a marketing ploy. Today, a majority of Americans feel obligated to purchase Valentine’s-themed items for others. This is a result of excessive advertising by companies such as Hallmark and Hershey. The price of small chocolate candies is raised simply because they are in red packaging, and flower companies make extravagant rose bouquets simply for the occasion. Although these companies profit tremendously when Valentine’s season comes around, it is a sad reality that Americans spend money on these items without knowing the true history of Valentine’s Day.

I feel like the chaos, hype, and materialistic factors surrounding Valentine’s Day take away from its true meaning of completing a small act of kindness. After all, Saint Valentine was a poor man known for performing secret marriages in church cellars by candlelight, not for giving luxurious gifts to all his friends. But for those secret brides and grooms, their simple exchange of words in a basement was enough to make them whole-heartedly happy. If more people knew Saint Valentine’s story, they would recognize that spending hundreds of dollars on a heart-shaped necklace for a loved one isn’t entirely necessary. Helping a friend or going out of your way to do something small and kind doesn’t require money, but thought. Because thought means so much more than a red box of heart-shaped candies.

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