As we approach February 14th, it is inevitable that you will hear your local cynic claim that Valentine’s Day is a scam created by Hallmark. Long amazed that a corporation could accomplish this feat simply through marketing, I decided to do some digging.
What I discovered is that the ancient Romans celebrated a fertility festival on February 13-15. It was more about nudity (and some acts whose descriptions made me blush) than romance. In 197 AD, a Christian named Valentine was martyred, perhaps on or around February 14. About a hundred years later, another Christian named Valentine was martyred (also allegedly on February 14) after being arrested for, legend says, performing illegal wedding ceremonies. He is said to have restored the sight of his jailer’s daughter, with whom some claim he was in love.
In 496 AD, the Pope declared February 14 as St. Valentine’s Day. On this date in 1400, a court opened in Paris called the High Court of Love. It dealt with “affairs of the heart” including marriage, divorce, infidelity and domestic violence (hardly a romantic notion).
In 1601, Shakespeare referenced Valentine’s Day in Hamlet, when Ophelia pledges her love to Hamlet (poor girl). By the mid 1700s, it had become customary in England to exchange love notes, often made of lace and paper. This task was made easier for men by the publication of The Young Man’s Valentine Writer in 1797, which offered up rhymes and messages for the less creative. Factories started mass producing St. Valentine’s cards in the early 19th century. The advent of paper lace brought the trend to Massachusetts as far back as 1850.
Hallmark was founded in 1910, and it wasn’t until 1913 that they began producing Valentines. Granted, they took the ball and ran with it as fast and as far as they could. Hey, I don’t blame Hallmark for that! They saw an opportunity and seized it, building on it year after year as any healthy corporation should. Let’s give them the credit they deserve, but let’s not give them more than is due. They didn’t create the concept of Valentine’s Day. They just made it the genius business enterprise it has become.
Now, Sweetest Day (celebrated by those in the Midwest in particular)… THAT’S a scam!
Happy Valentine’s Day from the Girl on the Roof!