Love it (for ever and always), or loathe it, Valentine’s day is on it’s way. It’s one calendar date that definitely didn’t start as a Scottish tradition (if you’re being offered a Glasgow kiss don’t be fooled, you are NOT being romanced!). Growing up I loved the mystery of an anonymous Valentine’s card, sent to me or anyone else.
Cynics point to Hallmark as the masterminds behind the day’s conception and recently there’s been a revolution in the form of Single Awareness Day. So, did St Valentine exist and what on earth did he (or she) do to start this day of pink, red and flowers? Is it a chance to declare your love or take stock of how lucky in love you are? Are lovers who ignore Valentine’s Day missing a chance at romance? This year I’m looking into what it’s all about.
What is Valentine’s day – and where did it start?
Do you dole out Love Heart sweeties and wait by the door for the postie? Valentine’s Day as we know it isn’t solely the creation of Mad Men style masterminds at Hallmark. It turns out the romance and fluffy stuff started WAY further back.
So, who was St Valentine?
First off, St Valentine was not just one person. It all gets a bit blurry historically and there are a few martyrs called St Valentine going back. Rather spookily one particular St. Valentine was persecuted by the Romans and is probably the source of the anonymous sign off. Legend has it he healed his jailer’s daughter and signed his last letter to her (before he was executed!) ‘Your Valentine’. This puts a rather macabre twist on one of my favourite elements of Valentine’s day!
Around the same time, the Romans (who loved a feast) celebrated Lupercalia – a fertility festival – and the Normans celebrated Galatin’s day (The ‘G’ is pronounced as ‘V’ in English). Over the centuries these celebrations seem to have been wrapped into the very un-pagan celebration of St Valentine’s day on 14th February.
So far, so unromantic
Chaucer (of Canterbury Tales fame) is credited with making February 14th a day of lovey-dovey romance. An improvement on beheadings methinks. It was in his era that ‘romance’ as a concept was invented. From then on not only was St Valentine’s day a feast day, it marked a day for sending declarations of love too (justifying a bit of chocolate-related over indulgence).
Sending flowers, sweeties and cards became the norm for Valentine’s gifts back in the 18th century and Hallmark jumped on board in 1913. In pre-war Britain Mr Cadbury popularised sending heart shaped boxes of chocolates.
More recently celebrations have gone beyond the tradition of sending a card and gift to one special person. Now mums everywhere give their kids cards to ensure no-one misses out. Frankly it can all get a bit extravagant! Having said that my lovely Dad has sent me an ‘anonymous’ Valentines card each year since I was a wee girl, signed ‘Guess Who?’. Its become a family tradition in its own right and I think its fab.
What’s it all about then?
I do love flowers, but the hundreds of millions (I kid not) of red roses bought and sent on Valentine’s Day does scare me a bit. Blooms, sweeties and helium balloons are all so fleeting, and I can’t help feeling, just a teensy bit wasteful.
Identifying senders of Valentine’s cards is brilliant fun if you’re unattached, and I will always live vicariously through those who get mysterious cards.
I say we need to share the love now more than ever, so, despite the schmaltz and the dubious eco credentials, I’m generally in favour of Valentines Day. Thoughtful gifts show your Valentine(s) that you care, and stand the test of time. Choosing a Valentines gift should be all about that individual person, and not because Marks & Spencer’s are promoting heart-shaped chocolate boxes, roses or red lingerie!
So, thinking caps on people – there are only 2 weeks to go. And Happy Valentines Day from me when it comes!