“Well, there’s the usual things: flowers… chocolates… promises you don’t intend to keep.” – Cogsworth, when questioned by the Beast for gift ideas in Beauty and the Beast.
Ah, Valentine’s Day. For some, it’s the most romantic day of the year. An excuse to OD on sweet decadent things, and engage in impulsive, out-of-your-comfort-zone activity, like maxing out your credit card in less than 24 hours.
It’s the day when some make (hopefully well thought out) proposals, the prelude to many a wedding. The one other time of the year (besides Christmas) when it’s acceptable to dress in red, and not be mistaken (or ribbed) for looking like a giant walking giftbox.
Although February 14 is not a statutory holiday (which is, ironically, derived from “holy day”) in North America, Valentine’s Day actually did start off as a religious observance–just to further compound the confusion. Some theorize that (St.) Valentine’s Day was established in ancient times to honour a number of Christian martyrs so named and persecuted for their religious beliefs, thus making the earliest association with Valentine’s Day one of sacrifice, rather than romantic love (the latter association only made in the 11th-14th centuries).
Well before Valentine cards, romantic poetry was used to convey thoughts of courtly love. I remember having to read Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales in senior high (and not all of it was a romanticized storytelling of the times! 🙂 ). Middle English is quite an interesting creature, with many an ‘e’, ‘y’, and ‘k’ letter added to the end of words. But I digress.
The first paper Valentine’s Day greeting cards (known simply as “Valentines”) were created in the early 19th century in the U.K. and U.S. They could be considered the first, mass-created and mass-distributed love letters for lads who wished to woo lasses, but were not necessarily gifted with poetic talents or a silver tongue. The use of the colour red (which denoted blood and warmth) and the heart (considered the seat of passion as well an emblem of love/devotion), were and still are recurring motifs in Valentines.
By the early 20th century, the well-to-do sent symbolic tokens of their affection in the forms of the paper Valentine’s greeting card, with flowers or chocolates. The art of love was becoming a booming business for stationers–even with rising postage and the high cost of paper vis-a-vis incomes of the times–especially with the addition of lace to the edges of paper Valentines. Today, Valentine’s day greeting cards also exist as animated digital e-Cards.
Is it altruistic of me to say that it should be the thought that counts, not the amount spent? Very much so. 🙂 But Valentine’s Day is big business in these modern times: the second-most lucrative day (after Christmas) for etailers and retailers at an estimated $18-$20 billion a year in the U.S. (based on an average expenditure of $160/person1), and $1-$1.25 billion a year in Canada (based on an average expenditure of $37/person2).
Electronic gadgets are popular gifts for Valentine’s Day (that is, if you can bear waiting that long to get the latest iPhone or iPad 🙂 ), alongside more traditional choices of red roses, chocolates, teddy bears, apparel, candle-lit dinners, jewelry, gift baskets, romantic getaways to exciting places, and even proposals of marriages. But the best things in life can be simple and free. Don’t overlook the one-size-fits-all hug!
For the more down-to-earth, handwritten notes and homecooked meals can be just as meaningful. Don’t get me wrong; I like not having to cook or clean up, but queueing up for an hour in a restaurant with 50 other couples isn’t my cup of tea.
As for Valentine’s Day cards, I started crafting my own, years ago, complete with my own brand of quirky trivia.
1 Here’s How America Is Spending $20 Billion This Valentine’s Day (theatlantic.com)
2 Based on a Retail Council of Canada (retailcouncil.org) report of 2012 Valentine’s Day expenditures.