In Pre-Christian Rome, Feb. 14 was a day reserved for young men to increase their fertility by prancing around the streets nude using goatskin whips to spank young ladies.
It’s nice to know some things never change.
Well, OK, maybe the times have changed a bit for the day now known as Valentine’s Day. That type of cavorting, which was once conducted in public, is now largely kept indoors. What has stayed intact is the orgiastic behavior on display in Pagan Rome.
It’s just been re-appropriated. In the old times, Feb. 14 was a free-for-all of nudity and public displays of sexuality. V-Day is now a debauched bender of spending — a national day of shelling out huge amounts of cold hard cash to convince the one person you’ve ignored all year that suddenly you actually care.
It’s a holiday whose significance has been cultivated and perpetuated over time by businesses to separate fools from their money.
But let’s backtrack for a moment to explore the history of how Valentine’s Day came to prominence.
According to an article in the UK’s Daily Telegraph, the roots of the holiday trace back to the previously mentioned naked Roman celebration. In ancient Rome, Feb. 13, 14 and 15 were part of a Pagan religious holiday known as Lupercalia, a fertility festival. Though Lupercalia has no official ties to what would become Valentine’s Day, it is the earliest known tie to love associated with the date of Feb. 14.
Then, in 496 AD, the Pope Gelasius declared Feb. 14 to be St. Valentine’s Day, a day of feasting for those of the Christian faith. The day was designed to compete with Lupercalia, but carried none of the associations with love that are now synonymous with the date.
By 1601, William Shakespeare mentioned St. Valentine’s Day in Hamlet. The character of Ophelia laments “Tomorrow is Saint Valentine’s Day, All in the morning betime, And I a maid at your window, to be your Valentine.”
By the mid-1700s, writing love notes on lace and paper becomes popular in England. By 1797, The Young Man’s Valentine Writer is published, which was a guide to writing love letters. Postal services become more available which allowed for the anonymous sending of those letters.
These are just a few of the most important moments in the development of what became Valentine’s Day. The most important or, depending on your perspective, most depressing event in the history of the holiday is the production of Hallmark Cards’ very first Valentine in 1913.
Most of the history of the holiday is tied to legends and myths, all of which have different versions. The only common thread among them being that historians seem to doubt all of them.
What is undoubtable is that the holiday has become immensely profitable since the Hallmark people took it over. According to the Retail Advertising and Marketing Association, America spends roughly $13.19 billion annually for Valentine’s Day, which averages out to $116.21 per person. They also claim that an average of 11,000 children are conceived on Feb. 14.
I’m sure that statistic doesn’t shock you, though. Here’s one that might.
The U.S. Census Bureau found that in 2009 The National Retail Federation found that Americans even spend $500 million on Valentine’s gifts for their pets.
Anyways, the trend that started in 1913 has obviously led to even more wild and crazy consumerism to the point that in the mid-1980’s, jewelry companies sensed that there was an opportunity and began to market their products heavily during this time. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, America spent $2.27 billion in the month of Feb. 2011 on jewelry alone.
Which leads me to another statistic.
According to a study conducted by Time Magazine, 82 percent of people polled responded that what they really wanted for the holiday was not a gift but an “experience.”
I’ll let your imagination take you for a second while you ponder what they meant by that. But I have my own take on that number.
I think most people just want something memorable from their significant other. Not a pre-written message in a greeting card. Not a teddy bear. Not flowers, which die, or chocolates which get sucked down, add fat and then are gone.
Something real, something that takes effort, something that takes real human interaction.
One more statistic for you that underlines the inherent laziness of the current American attitude towards love and romance.
There are now 904 online dating services in America. They’ve gotten oddly specific.
Examples are Christianmingle.com for Christians to meet Christians, 420dating.com for stoners to meet stoners, and Farmersonly.com for farmers seeking other farmers. Creepily enough, there is also findyourfacemate.com for people seeking people who look just like them.
Not to mention there is also STDmatch.net. You can fill in the blanks there.
No one wants real, actual experience anymore. No one wants to go out and let the blind stroke of chance take them. They’d rather date someone who looks just like them.
They don’t want to take the time to write in soaring language about the nature of their love like Shakespeare, they’d rather buy overpriced jewelry, pre-made, pre-written greeting cards or pre-packaged chocolates.
Not to advocate for public for the public nudity and whippings of the old Pagan days, but hey, at least the ancient Romans put in the effort to make their Feb. 14 a memorable experience.