Valentine’s Day: A History of Commercialization

Valentine’s Day evokes a lot of emotions. For different people, it can stimulate feelings such as love, stress, annoyance or even indifference. For us, however,  it’s curiosity. What is the origin of Valentine’s Day? And how has it evolved over time to become what it is today?

Many of you have probably heard of St. Valentine. (Whether you actually know anything about him is a different story, but we’re guessing the name sounds familiar). According to History.com, there are several different legends associated with St. Valentine. One suggests that he performed secret marriages for couples after marriage was outlawed for young men in Rome; others argue that he was a savior for Christians and aided them in their escape of Roman prisons. No one can know the truth behind those legends, but St. Valentine’s stories began to gain popularity in the Middle Ages.

So what does he have to do with Valentine’s Day? To some, Valentine’s Day is believed to be a celebration of St. Valentine’s death. Others disagree and think that the day is a variation of Lupercalia, a fertility festival dedicated to Romulus and Remus, Rome’s founders, as well as Faunus, the Roman god of agriculture. The celebration involved sacrifices so that Roman women could touch hides they believed made them more fertile. The day ended with the women being matched up with the lone bachelors of the city. Are you seeing the die hard romanticism yet? Yeah, neither are we.

Moving on in history, Valentine’s Day was officially declared in the 5th century under the name “St. Valentine’s Day” by the Pope. The day still didn’t have much to do with love until the Middle Ages, when France and England thought Valentine’s Day also happened to be the day birds started mating and, therefore, should be associated with romance.

After the holiday became official, it still took a while for Valentine’s Day greetings to pick up momentum, but today over 1 billion cards are sent out every year. So clearly something had to have changed - the question is what?

We got obsessed with stuff and celebrating ourselves. People like any excuse to get presents and find a reason to celebrate. Because of that, Valentine’s Day has evolved from just an ordinary day to a day where people feel the need to spend lots of money, find a way to prove they are romantic and further perpetuate the modern meaning of the day.

Furthermore many companies use Valentine’s Day as a way to simply make more money. Seasonal products are wonderful--don’t get us wrong, we love them-- but many times companies just change their packaging and the product inside remains the same. People rush to buy anything decorated in pink and red because that’s what we’ve become trained to do in the time leading up to Valentine’s Day. And since companies want to get as much as they can out of those seasonal products, the ‘season’ of Valentine’s Day gets stretched a bit excessively. As in we started seeing it pop up a few days after Christmas.

Moreover the commercials and advertisements for jewelry, perfume, cologne, flowers and all things associated with Valentine’s Day skyrocket. Companies convince the typical American that it’s a time to spend excessive amounts of money: not on love or experiences, but on stuff.

The idea that Valentine’s Day gives us a reason to take a step back and focus on the people we care about is great, but the concept of the day is similar to Thanksgiving: we should be thankful every day, not just on the second to last Thursday of November. So just as we should always be thankful, it is also important that we should show people we care all throughout the year. Yes, the reminder does help and it is fun to have a special day, but there is no need to be obsessive. The obsessiveness leads people in relationships to flaunt what they have and those of us who are single end up feeling unnecessarily sorry for ourselves.

So for any of us who have a significant other to spend the day with, enjoy it, embrace your relationship. Just don’t buy into the materialization of the day. For anyone who is single, just remember how Valentine’s Day might have begun with a celebration of fertile animal hides and the importance of the day will start to hold less weight.

But don’t get us wrong, if you want to continue to use the day as an excuse to mourn your love life, stay home in your sweatpants all day and watch rom-coms while stuffing your face, you have our blessing.