Five years ago, my boyfriend and I had been together for about three weeks when Valentine’s Day arrived. We decided to exchange gifts – because it’s nice apply a little pressure to a new relationship. We didn’t exchange any stereotypical Valentine’s gifts, although there were roses waiting for me at home at the end of the day. We went out to a nice dinner, doors were opened for me everywhere, we were dressed up – it was fun! The next year we both had the flu. In 2009 we didn’t do anything – no flowers, no quiet meal, no real acknowledgement of the day. I didn’t think I minded because after all – it’s a Hallmark holiday! But I did care. I cared more that we hadn’t done something together, just the two of us.
The last few years I’ve been dealing with this struggle — why do I care, vs. of course I care! Why do we need to show our significant other how much we care on that specific day? I thought that’s what anniversaries were for. Or other such special days couples share.
I researched the history of Valentines Day, trying to figure out how the day started, and why women are told they need flowers, jewelry, stuffed animals and candy on February 14th. According to one version, the day started as a celebration of early Christian martyrs who were named Valentine. Romantic, isn’t it? The two earliest were martyred in AD 197 and 269. A third martyr around that time was connected to the date February 14th. It wasn’t until the 14th century that “Saint Valentine” was connected with the day. Saint Valentine is actually referring to 14 martyrs. Around that time the original martyrs were forgotten. The Feast Day of Saint Valentine was removed from the Roman Calendar of Saints in 1969, leaving the holiday for candymakers and Hallmark.
In case you were wondering, valentine comes from the Latin valens, which means strong or worthy. When did it become about romance? You can thank Renaissance English writers for it – Chaucer and Shakespeare, most notably. Paper cards became popular love tokens in the middle ages. About 200 years later, young men’s magazines printed suggestions for those unable to write their own verses and love notes, and in 1913 Hallmark stepped in. And somehow it spun out over another 200 years to convincing men that women need and expect red roses and diamonds – never mind how those roses and diamonds come to you. I couldn’t figure it out. This information is interesting but without the obvious connection from the Christian Saints to the mention of a Valentine in Hamlet to the incessant post-Christmas ads for jewelry stores and Hallmark — I cannot pinpoint how it evolved.
And none of it has really helped me with how I should feel about this so-called holiday. I don’t know how reconcile my feminist beliefs with the need to enjoy the day with my boyfriend. I do know I received pink fair trade roses on Valentine’s Day. And I love them.
How do you feel about Valentine’s Day? Is it something you celebrate?
Originally appeared on Fem2.0