Now synonymous with rose petals, chocolates, and lingerie, Valentine’s Day occurs every year on February 14th. But where and how did this holiday originate?
February has long since been a month associated with romance, but the reasons why are shrouded in mystery. There’s approximately three different saints named Valentine and elements of the Catholic church and ancient Roman tradition make up the story. “From your Valentine '', a message still used to this day, was the last line of a letter sent by Saint Valentine to a lover after he was placed in prison for arranging and conducting marriages in secret after it became outlawed for young men, as the Emperor believed unmarried men made better soldiers. But it’s boring and convoluted and I don’t understand much of it myself from the research I’ve done so far so we’re going to skip forwards from A.D 270 to the 17th century. This is around the time Great Britain started to celebrate Valentine's Day and by the middle of the 18th century, people were regularly exchanging small tokens of affection and handwritten letters. With the increase of commercially printed cards, (printing and postage costs became more accessible) came the increase of anonymously sent cards, easy for expressing emotions in a time it would have been looked down upon to do so.
In addition to the UK, America, Australia, Canada, France and Mexico all celebrate this holiday. Other countries around the world have recently started celebrating too with their own cultural twists.
Japan’s confectionery adverts introduced Valentine's Day in the 1930’s and now, women are expected to present their recipients with different types of chocolate. There are different types for romantic partners, bosses, or female friends- honmei chocolate (true feeling) for prospective lovers or partners, and giri choco (obligation chocolate) for co-workers etc. Later in the year (March) comes “White Day” where the recipient of honmei choco is expected to reciprocate with a gift worth two or three times what was spent on the chocolate gift.
Another example is in The Philippines- on Valentines Day, “mass weddings” are celebrated, with hundreds of young couples all marrying at once. This event is government sponsored with free flowers, cake, and even rings for couples participating as a form of “public service”.
America quite possibly caused the huge commercial boom in Valentines Day merchandise and celebration. Americans have celebrated since the 19th century but it became popular in the 20th century, especially in schools. Valentine’s Day is more of a children's holiday in the US, in elementary schools children will give everyone in their class a card and candy which is a practice becoming more popular over in the UK as well in recent years.
The commercialisation of Valentine's Day is highly contested by some who argue that true love shouldn’t be confined to just one day of the year. My personal opinion is that obviously love shouldn’t be confined to one day of the year- but having a special day for couples to make time to celebrate together is definitely something that should be celebrated and made the most of.