“Will you be my Valentine?”
Just like Christmas and Halloween, I want to know why. Why do we designate this day to be the day we’re supposed to profess our undying love to our sweeties, eat tons of candy or tell the happy couples where to stick it? Don’t you want to know?
Or would you rather fall in to one of these categories this year?
- the married men or boyfriends who will forget and scramble to get flowers, chocolates, cards and/or jewelry
- the children who will overdose on sugar at school and pass out printed cards with the latest Disney movie characters
- the singles who will curse this day and do something that is the symbolic equivalent to giving Valentine’s Day the finger
- the couples who plan ahead and will do something on this day to … to do what?
Yea, I figured you’d like to know why too. So, here we go but please try to keep up and watch out for the tangents.
What’s In A Name | That Which We Call Valentine’s Day By Any Other Name Would We Still Do The Same Shit?
This tradition harks back to Saint Valentine who was a Christian martyr. His Saint Day (as each Saint must have their day — Feast Day of Saint Martha is July 29 in case you were wondering) is, as you know, February 14.
In a poem to honor the first wedding anniversary of the King of England, Chaucer had a throw-away line that discussed how birds choose their mate on Valentine’s Day. His words:
For this was on seynt Volantynys day
Whan euery bryd comyth there to chese his make.1
Makes your heart go all a-flutter, don’t it?
It was believed in the Middle Ages that February 14th was the beginning of bird’s mating season in France and England and so this spurred the thought that Valentine’s Day should be a good day for some romance.2
Well, to quote Wikipedia directly:
“Using the language of the law courts for the rituals of courtly love, a “High Court of Love” was established in Paris on Valentine’s Day in 1400. The court dealt with love contracts, betrayals, and violence against women. Judges were selected by women on the basis of a poetry reading.
The earliest surviving valentine is a 15th-century rondeau written by Charles, Duke of Orléans to his wife, which commences.
Je suis desja d’amour tanné
Ma tres doulce Valentinée…
—Charles d’Orléans, Rondeau VI, lines 1–2″
“I am already love .. tan? / My very sweet Valentine.” I remember less than I thought from my High School French classes, nonetheless I’m sure it was a very sweet poem from Chuck to his wife and we’re probably missing something out of context.
Writers, Love Notes And, You Guessed It, Valentines
The Duke of Orleans was locked in the Tower of London writing love notes to his wife but had no idea he was setting the precedence for other gentlemen who would come a’wooing after him. Although, to be fair, he might just be getting the credit as his Valentine is the oldest — dating back to 1415. Following him, men hired writers to craft poems and love notes. Men like King Henry V, or so it is believed.
In 1797, a British publisher did a little ghostwriting for young lovers who couldn’t find the right words to help them do like those birds we mentioned earlier. Not sure how bees come in to play, but I digress.
By the early 19th century, paper Valentines became so popular that factories were erected to churn those heart-shaped love notes out. Even then the fancy schmancy Valentines were made with lace, ribbons and lacy-ribbons — watch out for these big spenders! But, in actuality, people were spending a mini-fortune: an estimated 25 million cards were being sent and folks were spending 1.3 billion pounds on cards, flowers, chocolates and other gifts.
The Evolution Of The Valentine’s Day Card
We’ve done away with the lace, ribbons and making Valentines by hand since the 19th century. “The mid-19th century Valentine’s Day trade was a harbinger of further commercialized holidays in the United States to follow.” Observe:
Valentine’s Day – A Market For Suckers
Suckers, hard candy, chocolates and roses — these were and still are, their respective manufacturers/businesses would claim, a small token of love that you could give to your Valentine. But in the 1980s, the diamond industry wanted that small token to be a, well, a diamond. Not surprisingly, Valentine’s Day is a very popular day to pop the question. Diamond industry, you’ve done well in your marketing.
Stop Picking On Cupid
First off, Cupid did not get his start as some chubby little angel-boy whose mischievous intent was to shoot “love arrows” to unsuspecting victims. Cupid was the son of Venus (goddess of hope) and Mars (god of war). Cupid was the Roman god of desire, affection and erotic love. Not sure if you’ll follow me on this but I think Cupid, originally, was more like Batmanuel instead of what he’s perceived as today.
You totally see it, right?
Commercialism Got Us Again!
In summary, Valentine’s Day (the feast day of Saint Valentine) used to coincide with a time when birds would mate and we, as a society, looked to Nature for a cue that we should do the same. Handwritten, well thought out poems went by the wayside to mass produced Valentine cards that later took more and more of a commercial slant. Add in some chocolate, hard candy, romantic red roses, jewelry and lingerie and you’ve got: Valentine’s Day.
Nothing to romantic about this holiday, especially where it ended up and how it’s evolving (reference that last Valentine card). Why not rename the holiday to something like In Exchange For Some Dying Flowers and Cheap Chocolate I Would Like Very Much To Bump Uglies With You.