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14th February 2019

For the love of money

Sophia Ashby delves into the history of Valentine’s Day, because all relationships have complicated pasts.
For the love of money
Photo: David Teniers @ Public Domain

Chocolate, cards, flowers, and a romantic date with your other half. The cliché and commercialised scenes commonly depicted on Valentine’s Day. Whether you are in a happy relationship, single or your Facebook status still cringingly states ‘it’s complicated’, the 14thFebruary looms over us all.

I am a very recently single lady myself (hit me up) and refuse to be sucked into the sadness that is expected to consume all those not in a relationship. Firstly, I think Valentine’s Day is a load of commercialised codswallop. You can’t find real love at the bottom of a box of chocolates. It cannot be bought in a florist, and it will never materialise over lobster in an overpriced restaurant. Love is certainly not 50% off a ‘lovehunny’ couple’s vibrator.

Valentine’s Day conjures images of love and affection. But, as with all pure things, capitalism has found a way of making money out of it. In the weeks running up to the big day, billboards bombard us, telling us how to love. To confine romanticism to a single day is problematic, verging on tragic.

Firstly, we should be telling the most important people in our lives that we love them daily. This does not just mean your partner. All those who show you daily that they love you deserve some appreciation. What Valentine’s Day teaches us is that expressive love is only necessary for one day a year.

In an attempt to quell my yearly anger at the forced displays of affection, I decided to research the origins of Valentine’s Day. In truth, I wanted to discover that the day had no historical origins. I thought that by proving its purely monetary value, I could be more justified in my dismissal of it. However, I found that, like most relationships, Valentine’s Day has its roots in conflict.

Valentine’s Day holds its origins in Ancient Rome. The festival known as Lupercalia, celebrating the coming of Spring, included match-making rituals. Boys would pick the names of girls from a box, and the pair would celebrate the festival as boyfriend and girlfriend. The match relied on fate, suggesting a trust in a higher being or knowledge in creating a successful relationship.

Historians believe that the Church took over this ceremony in around the third century, in order to Christianise Rome. The legend states that Emperor Claudius II sentenced Saint Valentine to death for conducting secret marriages despite the ban. On the day of his execution, he sent a letter to his lover, signed ‘from your Valentine’. The tradition of anonymous cards was born in the 17th century. Friends and lovers exchanged hand written notes detailing their appreciation for one another.

In a traditional sense, it is endearing to know that there is an official celebration of romantic love. However, its origins are intensely ideological. The history of Valentine’s Day is an accurate reflection of human relationships and power dynamics. Rather embarrassingly, our current interpretation of Valentine’s Day shows our modern obsession with the monetary value of love.

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