February 4, 2011
If you thought that Valentine’s Day was purely the invention of florists, greeting card companies, chocolate makers and fine jewelry manufacturers throughout the world you’d be wrong. These people only exploit the holiday. They didn’t create it.
Saint Valentine's Day is named after one or more early Christian martyrs named Valentine and was established by Pope Gelasius I in 500 AD. Numerous early Christian martyrs were named Valentine. The Valentines honored on February 14 are Valentine of Rome and Valentine of Terni. Valentine of Rome was a priest in Rome who was martyred about AD 269 and Valentine of Terni, who became bishop of Interamna (modern Terni), about AD 197.
Saint Valentine’s Day first became associated with romantic love in the circle of Geoffrey Chaucer in the High Middle Ages, when the tradition of “courtly love” flourished. The first recorded association of Valentine's Day with romantic love is in Chaucer’s Parlement of Foules (1382). He wrote: For this was on seynt Volantynys day
Whan euery bryd comyth there to chese his make. (“For this was Saint Valentine’s Day, when every bird cometh there to choose his mate”).
The earliest surviving valentine is a 15th century “rondeau” written by Charles, Duke of Orleans to his wife. In 1797, a British publisher issued The Young Man’s Valentine Writer, which contained scores of suggested sentimental verses for the young lover unable to compose his own. Printers had already begun producing a limited number of cards with verses and sketches, called “mechanical valentines.”
By the early 19th century paper valentines became so popular in England that they were assembled in factories. In the United States, the first mass-produced valentines of embossed paper lace were produced and sold shortly after 1847. Since the 19th century, handwritten notes have given way to mass-produced greeting cards.
In the second half of the 20th century, the practice of exchanging cards was extended to all manner of gifts. Such gifts typically include roses and chocolates packed in a red satin heart-shaped box. In the 1980s, the diamond industry began to promote Valentine's Day as an occasion for giving jewelry.
By the mid 2000’s approximately 14 billion dollars was spent in the United States alone on Valentine’s Day. The rise of Internet popularity at the turn of the millennium is creating new traditions. Millions of people use, every year, digital means of creating and sending Valentine's Day greeting messages such as e-cards, love coupons or printable greeting cards. An estimated 15 million e-valentines were sent in 2010.
So what’s with the history lesson, you ask? Is this just one more cynic’s view that another holiday has become one of commercialism’s victims? Is it just a way to justify not spending a lot of money on your special valentine for the occasion? Perhaps, to some degree, maybe, but it’s also to point out that the reason for the holiday has always been the celebration of affection. If you need a special day of the year to do so, and many of us seem to, you can show your affection in many ways. Ways that may or may not cost you a lot of money, but remember it’s really the spirit of the day that needs to be honoured.
So remember the words of Dr. Gilda Carle, a relationship expert, who said, “Jewelry wears thin. Flowers die. But cards get kept and gestures remembered. Ultimately, what is important, what people remember isn’t the expense but the expression, and its meaningfulness.”
The honey's sweet, and so are you
Thou are 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.
From a collection of English nursery rhymes Gammer Gurton's Garland (1784).