Was Valentine’s Day created by the greeting card industry, florists or candy manufacturers? Find out here!
Valentine’s Day is fast upon us, a time when tokens of affection are exchanged in a virtual orgy of consumerism. The Greeting Card Association estimates that over a billion cards are exchanged annually making Valentine’s Day second only to Christmas (2.6 billion) in card sending popularity.
Some people are under the false impression that the greeting card or candy industries manufactured Valentine’s Day just to boost their sales (as they have done with Secretary’s Day, Boss’s Day, Grandmother Day, etc.) but this is not the case. St. Valentine did exist, though his history is a little murky; one version is that in the 3rd century A.D. Emperor Claudius II of Rome decided that single men made better soldiers than married one’s so he outlawed marriage in an attempt to bolster the ranks of his army. Valentine, a priest, continued to marry couples secretly in defiance of the ban (and in support of romance) and paid for it with his life. A related version has Valentine in prison where he meets and falls in love with the jailer’s daughter. Before his execution, he writes her a farewell note and signs it From your Valentine, an expression that remains in use today.
The Catholic Church is credited with having promoted Valentine’s Day as a strategy to co-opt a pagan fertility festival know as the Lupercalia festival. In ancient Rome, February was the official beginning of spring and was considered a time for purification. Houses were ritually cleansed by sweeping them out and then sprinkling salt and a type of wheat called spelt throughout their interiors. Lupercalia, which began at the ides of February (February 15) was a fertility festival dedicated to Faunus, the Roman god of agriculture, as well as to the Roman founders Romulus and Remus. Pope Gelasius declared February 14 as St. Valentine’s Day around 498 A.D.
In Great Britain, Valentine’s Day began to be popularly celebrated around the 17th century. By the middle of the 18th century, it was common for friends and lovers in all social classes to exchange small tokens of affection or handwritten notes. By the end of the century, printed cards began to replace written letters due to improvements in printing technology. Ready-made cards were an easy way for people to express their emotions in a time when direct expression of one’s feelings was discouraged. Cheaper postage rates also contributed to an increase in the popularity of sending Valentine’s Day greetings. Americans probably began exchanging hand-made valentines in the early 1700s. In 1847 Esther A. Howland of Worcester, Massachusetts began to sell the first mass-produced valentines in America. In 2001, the Greeting Card Association established an annual award in her honor.
Commercialism aside, I do think there is a big problem with the way in which we celebrate Valentine’s Day. By targeting only one day in the year to show our spouses or sweethearts we love and care about them, we can easily fall into thinking that it isn’t all that important or necessary to provide indications of our affection, admiration and respect all year long. In my work with couples, I constantly emphasize how very important this is in maintaining the health and well-being of a relationship. It is terribly easy is to overlook making these small but crucial gestures and begin taking the other for granted.
Nobody ever tires of hearing a sincerely expressed I love you or getting a hug, a kiss or even a thinking of you text, v/m or e-mail from their spouse or lover. We often tend to write this kind of simple reinforcement off as something children may require, but as adults consider ourselves too sophisticated, mature or embarrassed to admit the need to hear it.
For you men out there, it is important to accept and appreciate how important it is to your wife/girlfriend that you offer modest verbal or physical tokens of your affection on a regular basis. Just because these tokens may not mean much to us, don’t make the mistake of thinking they don’t mean much to them. If you are caring, or at least smart, you’ll incorporate making theses gestures into your daily routine.
That is why I propose we steal a page from Lewis Carroll’s wonderful and bizarre book Alice in Wonderland and celebrate Unvalentine’s Day. The Mad Hatter, the Door Mouse and the rest of their crew may have been on to something in celebrating unbirthdays. We need not go as far as sending Unvalentine’s Day cards (apologies to the Greeting Card Association) but we can practice being a little more demonstrative with our affection with those we love and care about: a hug or kiss when we leave the house for the day or upon our return, a goodnight kiss upon retiring, the occasional I love you phone call, you get the idea. Even if these gestures go uncommented upon, you can rely that on some level they are being taken-in and appreciated, in subtle but important ways. Commit yourself to doing this on a regular basis and see if you don’t soon notice a positive outcome.