Valentine’s Day: a.k.a Doomsday

With the excitement of the hectic holiday season behind us, we seem to be settling in for a long and quiet winter. If this prospect seems bleak and boring—don’t despair! It won’t be long before the arrival of our next holiday—the Feast of Saint Valentine, more commonly known today as Valentine’s Day.

February 14th has been celebrated around the world since before the Middle Ages; however its origin is mysterious. It began as a celebration of the patron saint Valentinus or Valentine. However, the identity of Valentine remains shadowy since the Catholic Church recognizes at least three different saints with that name. One legend has it that he was a Roman priest who defied Emperor Claudius II’s decree that soldiers had to remain single, by secretly performing marriages for young lovers. When he was discovered, Valentine was put to death. Another legend portrays Valentine as someone who was imprisoned for helping Christians escape from harsh Roman prisons. In this story, he is credited with sending the first “valentine” to a young girl who visited him in jail by writing her a letter signed “From your Valentine.” Despite the confusion as to his identity, all the accounts of Valentine portray him as a kind and caring person. Originally a commemoration of Saint Valentinus’ life and good deeds, it wasn’t until the High Middle Ages, when the era of courtly love flourished, that the day became associated with romantic love. As time went on the holiday’s link to romantic love only grew. Eighteenth-century England took hold of the loving holiday and officially marked it as the day in which lovers expressed their feelings for one another by sending flowers, candy, and hand-written letters and cards known as “valentines.” And so began the tradition that continues to this day.

You may be taking in all these facts and perhaps finding a new sense of respect for the holiday. However, while the wheel of “progress” has continued to turn, this once truly romantic and thoughtful holiday has lost some of its touch. In the 19th century new technology meant that mass-produced greeting cards replaced the 18th century handmade versions. This in turn led to the rise of booming businesses such as one familiar to us all: Hallmark. Thanks to this well-known company that creates cards for every occasion one could possibly think of, we now no longer have to go through all the trouble of making a heartfelt card on our own. For many this modern day convenience has taken away the importance of Valentine’s Day. People no longer receive thoughtful letters that express their love for their significant other or a person they find intriguing. Instead, they receive a card with a tacky, typical, clichè cover that has some sappy message on the inside with no sign of sincerity besides the person’s signature.

Ironically, even though the impersonality of modern day Valentine’s Day has led to people taking it less seriously, the pressure associated with it has increased. Greeting card companies are not the only ones guilty of complicating what used to be a simple holiday by promoting an over the top, lovey-dovey, totally unrealistic kind of love. Media is guilty too. In recent years, there have been many movies about Valentine’s Day that involve the trials and tribulations of poor fools desperately trying to find true love on or before the all-important date of February 14th. Many television programs feature “valentine” episodes that similarly over dramatize the importance of having a valentine. The implication that a person’s worth is defined by whether or not they have a significant other has unfortunately resulted in stress, rather than love, which is supposed to be the number one emotion associated with this holiday. Ipswich High School senior Ellie Dolan expresses her regrets about the holiday by stating: “Valentine’s Day has become way too overrated. The day seems to only end in drama and let down, especially if you are single. Even if you are not single, the day is just stressful because now there is just too much hype over it.”

Even Mrs. Billings-White, Ipswich High School’s orchestra teacher says: “I remember when I was in high school—I used to get so anxious that I wasn’t going to get a valentine on Valentine’s Day. Ahh it was an awful feeling.”

It seems as though our society’s own devices have turned against us and transformed a once loving, caring, and genuinely thoughtful day into a frenzied, stressful, overwhelming, and often gut-wrenching day. Perhaps one day the holiday will return to how it used to be, but for now, it remains a doomsday to many.