Valentine who? A celebration or a commercial cash cow?

February 14 induces a smorgasbord of emotions. Frustration that we are forced- along with everyone else- to buy a gift to endorse our partner’s as ‘loved’, irritation that we as a society have been convinced by retailers that prehistoric myth has any relevance to us in the 21st century, excitement at the possibility of a loving gesture from an admired lover and /or joy which arrives when we give a gift to show our care for a loved one. When February 14 arrives, we can’t help but emote – but why all the fuss and who or what is Valentines all about?

A little digging around in revealed some interesting insights into the origins of this day. February has long been celebrated as a month of romance, and St. Valentine’s Day, as we know it today, contains vestiges of both Christian and ancient Roman tradition.

Valentine’s Day, like Halloween, is rooted in pagan partying. The lovers’ holiday traces its roots to raucous annual Roman ‘Lupercalia’ festivals where men stripped naked, grabbed goat- or dog-skin whips, and spanked young maidens in hopes of increasing their fertility. Some claim that the Christian church pegged the festival to the legend of St. Valentine. They may have decided to place St. Valentine’s feast day in the middle of February in an effort to \”Christianize\” the pagan celebration of Lupercalia.  The Catholic Church recognizes at least three different saints named Valentine or Valentinus, all of whom were martyred. Although the truth behind the Valentine legends is murky, the stories all emphasize the saints’ appeal as a sympathetic, heroic and–most importantly–romantic figure.

While some believe that Valentine’s Day is celebrated in the middle of February to commemorate the anniversary of Valentine’s death or burial–which probably occurred around A.D. 270, it was not until much later that the day became definitively associated with love. During the Middle Ages, it was commonly believed in France and England that February 14 was the beginning of birds’ mating season, which added to the idea that the middle of February should be a day for romance.

Although it is traditionally a celebration of love and affection between intimate companions, it does not mean that romantic love is the only kind to celebrate. Valentine’s Day is about celebrating all aspects of love. Some parts of Europe, February 14th is known as \”Friend’s day\” and is more about remembering all your friends, not only your loved ones.

And, in some Latin American countries Valentine’s Day is known as “Day of Love and Friendship”. Although it is similar to the ‘commercial’ version in the west, it is also common to see people do \”acts of appreciation\” for their friends.

Today, according to the Greeting Card Association, an estimated 1 billion Valentine’s Day cards are sent each year, making Valentine’s Day the second largest card-sending holiday of the year. (An estimated 2.6 billion cards are sent for Christmas). Regardless of how we feel about it and how murky the facts are, it is an opportunity that offers a platform for loving expression in any form.

Love, love, love. That is the message of the day. If making or buying a card to say “I love you”, eating chocolate and at the very worst gazing into flowers -you bought for yourself (because you are worth it) – is what  makes up your Valentine’s day, it not worth moaning about. Life is too short for a bad cup of coffee and definitely too short for moaning about a day dedicated to love – Valentine or no Valentine.