Valentines Day: From Past to Present

February 14th. Love it or hate it, it’s widely celebrated the world over as a day for lovers. Cue the red roses, chocolates, candlelit dinners and marriage proposals, at least for those lucky in love. But how did the feast day of Saint Valentine become synonymous with love and affection? It certainly wasn’t Saint Valentine who went about giving away flowers and preaching the value of romance. His was something of a different story.

Little is known of the actual Saint Valentine (visit story of Saint Valentine to learn more about him). Basically, St. Valentine was martyred sometime in the third century AD for his Christian beliefs. Then, in 496 AD, Pope Gelasius I established a feast day for Saint Valentine to be held on February 14th. valentines day This means that Valentine’s Day has been celebrated for over 1500 years. In the days of antiquity however, Valentine’s Day was marked NOT by giving of gifts to loved ones, but by religious contemplation and fasting. This continued until the late Middle Ages, which gradually saw a shift in the perception of St. Valentine.

There are many theories as to why Valentine’s Day became associated with love, beginning around the 14th century. One theory claims it was popularized by Geoffrey Chaucer in his writings on the traditions of England. Others claim that as birds were believed to pair in mid-February, this became associated with the feast of St. Valentine. As fun and interesting as religious contemplation and fasting can be, people generally prefer feasting and engaging in romantic activities. And, so, Valentine’s day began to be popularized by romantic interests … a day to put forward one’s love for another. Whatever the underlying real reasons, the seeds were sown in the 14th century for Valentine’s Day to become the global festival of romance that it is today.

Valentine’s Day has steadily evolved, and continues to evolve – for better or worse. Valentine’s Day continues its association with love and romance, but it has become far more about commercialism that spirituality. In England in the 1800s, cards and small tokens of affection were exchanged between young men and women. As affordable luxuries became available to the masses, certain gifts such as chocolate became a traditional Valentine’s Day gift around the late 19th century. Enter consumer capitalism. Gift card giants such as Hallmark in the mid 20th century began pushing Valentine’s Day as a ‘holiday’ and gradually February 14th became a global phenomenon. Successful advertising campaigns, and an increase in society’s awareness of St. Valentine as the patron saint of love, have seen February 14th become a internationally recognized day to celebration of love, passion and all things romantic.

In 2015, it is estimated that in the United States that over 18 billion dollars were spent on Valentine’s Day (some of that money going to the estimated 196 million roses that were given to someone special). In the UK, over £1.5 billion was spent on Valentine’s Day gifts. These figures include everything from simple cards to weekend vacations to dinners to jewelry. Valentines Day is seen by many retailers as a fantastic opportunity following the traditionally sparse month of January. In January, generally people’s finances have yet to recovered from the Christmas excess. And, so, Valentine’s Day is exploited by everyone from florists to travel agents to restaurateurs.


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Now, do NOT let all this commercialization sour you on Valentine’s Day. Yes, the Valentine’s Day hype can be annoying (and for some folks it can be downright depressing). Valentine’s Day can be special day if you return to the roots of this unusual holiday. It is about love. Are there people in your life that you don’t say, ‘I love you’ to enough? Are there special people in your life that you have never told that you love them. Valentine’s Day, at it’s heart, is about taking a moment to tell others you love and appreciate them. Many of us find difficult to express our feeling. Why not use Valentine’s Day to express some love and appreciation for those special people in your life? A token gift, a flower, a handmade card, an expression of appreciation and affection does have to be expensive. It fact, saying ‘I love you’ costs nothing at all. And, Saint Valentine will surely smile on you if you would do such a simple thing.
Happy Valentine’s Day.

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