It seems like it’s been forever, although more likely only a week or so, that we’ve been inundated with Valentine’s Day rubbish – everything from ads for red satin thongs and fishnet stockings to boxes of chocolate and long-stemmed roses. And, reacting much the same way as I do to Christmas decorations going up in September, I’m thoroughly sick and tired of the whole thing long before the day even arrives.
Perhaps I’m just an anti-romantic at heart but Valentine’s Day has always struck me as one of the least useful celebrations ever, probably second only to Halloween. In fact, I had always believed it was just one of those artificial celebrations, like Mother’s Day, created by the greeting card companies to generate sales.
But I was wrong. Valentine’s Day actually has a long and storied history, with the first documented reference in literature being way back in 1382, in Geoffrey Chauser’s Parlement of Foules. Of course, in old English he referred to it as “seynt Volantynys day” , and there’s some indication that he was actually referring to May 2 rather than February 14, but it was “Volantynys Day” nonetheless.
It’s unclear how (or even if) the day was celebrated by the masses back then, but in more recent times, Valentine’s Day saw a resurrection of sorts in 1847 when the first mass-produced Valentine’s Day cards were created in the US.
My, how we’ve progressed, or more precisely, how mass marketing has manipulated our expectations since then. In addition to the usual cards, over-priced roses, wear-once lingerie and fattening foods, we are now expected to consider giving our loved ones jewellery, hockey tickets, sun vacations, cell phones, blood-pressure tests, newspapers, books, massage oils, fine art, theatre tickets, champagne, and cars. (That list from the advertising in one issue of one newspaper, a week beforehand.)
Clearly it’s gone way too far and is now too deeply embedded in our commercial culture to ever change, except for the worst, but, like giving that special Valentine’s Day card to the cute, red-haired girl in Grade 5 who never knew you existed, hope springs eternal on this day and perhaps, just perhaps, someone will come along and abolish the whole stupid thing by Act of Parliament.