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Valentine’s Day - a Brief History and the Unfortunate Truths of Corporatized Holidays

Updated: May 3, 2022

by Ian Sturak

It’s not entirely clear where, on the road to the obscurity, the cumulative feast day of several early Christian martyrs by the name of Valentine was saved, becoming a common holiday in the modern calendar. To be forgotten seems the destiny of all Catholic Saint days in the modern world - they are, after all, woefully out of place nowadays. However, as anyone who’s been in practically any store during the month of February can inform you, the holiday has become a staple of our current world.

The original purpose of the day has long been left behind, perhaps to the chagrin of the Church’s patronages of the Valentines of Rome and Terni, whose largely mythical stories are entirely of irrelevance to the populace participating in the celebrations now. Instead, the day has become synonymous with romance - a time to express one’s love for one another.

It is not entirely clear where this tradition started. In fact, it seems to have arisen out of nowhere. In the 1382 Parliament of the Fowls by Geoffery Chaucer, it mentions the traditions of “seynt Valentynes day” where every “foul cometh there to chese his make” that is, every bird coming forward to choose their mate, despite no record of the tradition to which he is referring ever existing.

Over the next several centuries, it was formed into its modern prestige. It was in these years that Valentine’s day poetry first arrived, with the eloquent rondeau from Charles, the Duke of Orléans to his wife, “je suis desja d’amour tanné / ma tres doulce Valentinée,” as he was held a prisoner in the Tower of London. References to the holiday as a romantic one would become more commonplace, by Ophelia in Shakespeare’s Hamlet, in commemorations of the 1613 Valentine’s Day marriage of Elizabeth, daughter of James I, and Elector Palatine Frederick V, and, eventually, in the emergence of printed Valentine’s cards in the early nineteenth century.

Premade verses and poems became standard to the new “mechanical Valentine’s,” paper parcels assembled now in factories due to the growing demand for them. Thousands were shipped en masse around Europe by 1835. Cheap paper lace had been substituted into the cards as they grew more and more commercialized.

1868 saw Cadbury, a prominent chocolate-making company, create the first heart-shaped box of chocolates, now a standard of the day. In the years to come, Valentine’s day manufacturing would only flourish as card purchases grew and grew - the US Greeting Card Association now estimates that one hundred ninety million cards are sent on Valentine's Day each year.

It has become a “Hallmark Holiday,” a name coined for Hallmark Cards, a corporation that mass manufactures greeting cards for almost any holiday imaginable, profiting massively from each. Hallmark Holidays seem to only exist for the profit of large companies like these - keeping up the idea of the holiday only to pressure consumers into buying expensive boxes of chocolate or cards, shaming them when they don’t. It’s the dark side to a seemingly innocent holiday - a mass collection of companies conspiring to keep themselves wealthy.

And, ultimately, what joy is there in receiving a manufactured greeting card compared to that of a real one? What joy is there in mass produced flowers, dying mere hours after they are given? What joy is left in the holiday anymore?

Letting our actions and emotions be manipulated, dictated, and shackled by companies is the new American Valentine’s Day. Our materialistic culture praises the fresh off the press greeting cards, the plastic sealed envelopes and boxes of chocolate, and acts as if that’s the emotional center of the day.

Valentine’s Day has become an oppressive, echoing cavern, devoid of any true feeling. It is a trend that seems to be catching up to all our modern holidays, each increasingly consumerized, with requirements on what you have to buy to partake in the societal celebration of the event. And it’s something we need to hold off against.


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