Con: The Misconstrued Meaning of Valentine’s Day

Anjali Bhatia, Print Copy Editor

Valentine’s Day should be a holiday to celebrate and cherish the people we love. However, companies have commercialized the holiday in pursuit of profits. St. Valentine’s Day originates from the festival of Lupercalia which occurred in 270 A.D. and celebrated fertility. Roman priests would sacrifice an animal, usually a dog or a goat, and strip their hides, which would then be placed on the women, in the belief that this practice would induce fertility. At the end of Lupercalia, women would put their names in an urn and bachelors would pick a name. The chosen woman and the bachelor would be “paired” for the year and most likely become married.

This festival continued to take place in this form until the rise of Christianity. Christian priests deemed the festival immoral and replaced the holiday with St. Valentine’s Day. Soon after, this day became associated with love. Written valentines, however, did not appear until the 1400s, when the Duke of Orleans sent a poem to his wife while he was imprisoned. This was the first valentine; however, the greeting cards that are ubiquitous today are far different from this handwritten love letter.

The current frenzy around Valentine’s Day started in the 1800s when a woman named Esther Howland, known as the “Mother of Valentine,” made elaborate creations with ribbons, lace, and pictures. By the 1820s, nearly 200,000 valentines were circulating in London annually. By the late 1840s, these exchanges had doubled. During the 1840s, the holiday was popularized by newspapers and magazines as a day of rest and pushback against industrialization. They called for “more soul-play and less head-work” and believed that what the U.S. needed was more holidays that didn’t focus on business or money but gave the country times that “allowed for ‘an abandon of feelings.’”  By 1867, more than a million cards were being produced. Over the decades, various companies took advantage of the trend and started associating their products with this holiday. Candy, flowers, cards, and jewelry soon became a part of this tradition. Today, Valentine’s Day will generate about $19.6 billion of sales, and the average American will spend $142.31 buying an assortment of gifts. Hallmark and other greeting card companies distribute over 144 million Valentine’s Day cards each year.

What we have lost in this commercialization is the original intent and meaning behind this day. It cheapens the idea of true love by substituting honest feelings with material goods. Love is then measured not by sincere expression, but by the size and dollar amount of the gift, implying that the more money spent, the more real the love. However, in reality, no such correlation exists. I believe a true measure of love is not the cost of the gift, but the sacrifice and true feelings of the giver. This day provides the opportunity to express our friendship, commitment, and love to those we care most about and surely we can find a better way to do so than merely purchasing material goods.