‘ Will you be my valentine, our entwined hearts beating in harmony, Will you pick me up when I fall and kiss all those demons away, Will you be faithful and promise to not love another woman when i’m gone, Because I am your valentine and you are mine, soft spoken words like a whisper of a feather, Will you be my valentine, holding me until the day I die, Will you think of me above all others, Will you think that I am the most beautiful woman in the world, Will you think that there is noone else but me, Will you be my valentine’
There is no doubt that Valentines day- whose roots is in 3rd century Europe- has been commercialized to boost the economy. From cards to dinners out Valentines day’s lucrative appeal has essentially turned us all into ‘commodities’ competing to spend the most money on our partners and feeling guilty if our friends have managed to beat us at our own game. But Valentines day wasn’t always a commercial affair; originating in the third century the church recognizes three patron saints named Valentine or Valentinus, all of whom were martyred for defying Roman militarian anarchy otherwise known as the century of the ‘rulers crisis’. With no less than 20 governing bodies the people began to revolt and Valentine was reputed to help convicts escape harsh Roman prisons. Other legends claim that Valentine set up a revolt against marriage laws that prevented young men from marrying their loved ones while some claim he was imprisoned and fell in love with the jailors daughter who visited him until the day he died.
But how did sacriledge and bloodshed become the commercial affair it is today? After the death of Valentine it is reported that people took up arms and celebrated his life through a pagan celebration of sacrifice and life known as Lupercalia. Lupercalia was a fertility festival dedicated to Faunus, the Roman god of agriculture, as well as to the Roman founders Romulus and Remus. Christians became determined to exhume all pagan ties to Valentine and according to records used February 14th because it was the both the day he died and ended all affiliation with Paganism. By the 5th century Lupercalia was outlawed but its sentiments still remained; It wasn’t until The Middle Ages that Valentines day became associated with ‘love’ and it coincided with the bird mating season cementing the ‘sexual’ and ‘romantic’ nature of February 14th.
Valentines day became immortalized in European culture and was a signifier for changing attitudes towards sex and romance, while the first surviving love letter dated 1415 was from Charles Duke of Orleans to his wife during his imprisonment in the tower. The first love letter was a celebration of being a unified partnership and sharing who you were with the love of your life. The connotations may be sweet but many were punished for loving outside of their social sect and letters became their legacy to their loved ones. For the most part Valentines was not a commercial celebration but a sentimental declaration of love and it wasn’t until the 19th century that Valentines day became commercialized. In 1900 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 overt declarations of love were frowned upon. Love was not neccessarily a commodity but card sales did boost ecnomic production and helped pre-empt Valentines lucrative potential.
During the 20th century the commercialization of Valentines day fed off of the success of Christmas celebrations which pocketed billions every year. Valentines day capitalized on consumers desire to spend and perpetuated the ideal that ‘more spending’ equals a better love life when in reality happiness has little correlation to financial income. With over 140 million people sending Valentines cards there has been an increase in the expansion of Valentine themed products including clothing, chocolates and lingerie which are promoted as the ‘aphrodiasics’ of the modern world connoting that commercialism is centered around ‘sex appeal’ because ‘sex sells’. But with so many lucrative opportunities how can we say no to the lure of commercial celebrations?
Find out more in part II ‘The Sexualization of Valentines Day’
Is Valentines day too commercial? What are your thoughts?