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The myth of Valentine’s Day: should you really care about 14 Feb?

by Amanda Collins

Valentine’s Day: you either love it, or you hate it. But regardless of how you feel about it, you cannot escape it. Every year it rolls around, and for the week leading up to 14 Feb we are surrounded by hearts, flowers and an abundance of the colour red on our televisions, in shopping centres and even in our workplaces.

So where did Valentine’s Day come from? And should you really care about it? Or is it just a money trap and a way to make single people feel bad?

The History of Valentine’s Day

Contrary to popular belief, Valentine’s Day was not created by Hallmark to sell cards (those money-makers came later, much, much later).

  • 753 BC – Valentine’s Day was originally a rather gruesome and ruckus fertility festival called Lupercalia which began around the time that Rome was founded (753BCE).
  • 200 – 300 AD: Fast forward 800 years or so to 3rd century Rome. Here, the particularly ambitious Emperor Claudius II, annoyed with the half-hearted efforts of homesick soldiers in his army, banned marriage, believing that single men would make better, less homesick, soldiers.

Enter Father Valentine, a priest with a romantic streak, who defied the Emperor’s orders and kept marrying loved-up couples in secret. His activities were soon discovered and he was sentenced to execution.

During his imprisonment it is said that couples who had been married by him would visit and pass him flowers and gifts through his cell bars. A romantic to the end, while in jail it is said that Valentine fell in love with his guard’s daughter. On the day he went to his death, he passed her a note signed ‘From your Valentine’.

  • 401 – 500 AD – Leap ahead a couple of hundred years to Pope Julius, who declared 14 Feb St Valentine’s Day, to remember the soft-hearted Valentine.
  • 1201 – 1300 AD – The middle ages is where we see Valentine’s Day begin to be linked with general romance and love, with people associating 14 Feb as the day when birds began their courting rituals.
  • 1401 – 1500 AD – Around the time Joan of Arc was leading armies, we begin to see the first written records of people swapping Valentine’s Day cards with their sweethearts.
  • 1601 – 1700 AD – It is here, at the dawn of the modern age that we see the British population really begin to swap cards and letters on 14 Feb in earnest, a tradition which soon spread to America.
  • 1840 AD – In the middle of the Industrial Revolution we see the first traces of modern Valentine’s Day, with the very first mass-produced Valentine’s Day card.
  • Today – It is estimated that Australians will spend around $14.6 million dollars on cards, or around $86 per person on their loved one. The most popular gifts include: flowers, getaways, chocolates and lollies, clothing and underwear and dining experiences.

So knowing all this, what’s the verdict on Valentine’s Day?

From a crazy bloodthirsty fertility rite, to a cranky Emperor and a lovelorn priest, to secret card swaps in palace halls, it’s easy to see that Valentine’s Day has never been about the dollar value of a gift.

So however you spend Valentine’s Day, remember that from its earliest beginnings, it has been a celebration of life, and later of love. Whether you’re single, dating, in a partnership or married, the day is for everyone.

You don’t need to spend $86 unless you want to. You can celebrate life and love by calling your mum, or having picnic with your loved one, going out for a girls ‘Gal-entine’s Day’ lunch, hanging at home with your beloved pet, or you can do nothing at all and just, at one point during the day, spend a fleeting moment of gratefulness to be alive.

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