Important history of Valentine's Day should be considered
February 11, 2015
I started my column last week acknowledging that this month revolves around the 24 hour period reserved for lovers: Valentine's Day.
The hype starts weeks out in stores such as Walgreens, Target, Hallmark and the like, but as we know, the peak of romantic anticipation is this Saturday, Feb. 14.
The alleged history surrounding Valentine's Day--or Saint Valentine’s Day, rather--is actually quite interesting. Supposedly, around the latter part of the third century, Roman Emperor Claudius II wanted to impose military duty on all of his male subjects. However, not nearly enough men signed up as he would have liked. He saw their love and devotion to wives and fair ladies as a deterrent from signing up to fight in his army, so he outlawed new marriages and engagements altogether.
Valentine of Rome, a priest, realized how preposterous this law was. He saw it as his duty to unite people in love through the sacrament of holy matrimony, and defiantly continued preforming marriages for young couples. Alas, Valentine was eventually discovered and nearly beaten to death with clubs before being executed. This supposedly occurred on Feb. 14, 278 A.D.
There is a very long process for a person to become a saint, involving petitions for sainthood, Godly intercession, and "miracles." Over hundreds of years all these prerequisites eventually occurred in Valentine of Rome's name, and his feast day became one honoring love and marriage: Saint Valentine's Day. His skull now dons a floral crown and is on display in the Basilica of Santa Maria in Rome.
Though there aren’t many records about what really happened to prompt Saint Valentine's beheading, the idea behind Valentine's Day is a romantic one. I imagine two young star-crossed lovers sneaking into some dark, stone-walled medieval basement in defiance of their oppressive government, promising themselves to one another for all eternity. There were probably candles and words exchanged in Latin and maybe some really exquisite Italian wine, for religious purposes, of course; a very Romeo-and-Juliet type ordeal.
Nearly 1,800 years later, though, Valentine's Day means nothing in regards to what it was originally supposed to. Saint Valentine would roll over in his grave (or display case?) if he knew how this day, originally intended to celebrate his martyrdom for love in the face of governmental oppression, has become so incredibly hyper-capitalized.
I don't plan on celebrating Valentine's Day this year. Now, I'm not trying to impose some holier-than-thou type thing on anybody. I've had valentines in the past, and it's certainly nice to have a cup of coffee or eat a fancier-than-usual dinner with them and be aware how much you appreciate one another's company on this day. I simply think it's important to be mindful of what we're giving in to if we do celebrate, in any capacity.
One only needs to visit the nearest department, drug or grocery store to see how rampant the capitalistic facade of Valentine's Day is. Shelves are stocked weeks before the actual holiday with meaningless objects for you to buy, therefor proving your love to your significant other: cheaply made stuffed-animals produced in countries that likely don't enforce ethical labor practices in all cases, and heart-shaped boxes of chocolate that are always a little disappointing.
These chocolates are often made with milk from cows on corporate industrial farms, who endure forced pregnancy to produce more milk, have their calves taken from them, and are injected with unnatural growth hormones; there's really no way to know what you're getting.
Last spring, VICE News released a huge story titled "The Human Cost of Your Mother's Day Flowers." The story profiled a Colombian woman named Lorena whose only option for work was in the cut-flower industry. She made just $333 every month, in what is a $2.1 billion industry on just Mother's Day; even more flowers are bought on Valentine's Day.
Women, making up 70 percent of the work force, dominate the industry, but are blatantly paid less than men who are preforming the same jobs. The chemicals on the flowers and 16-hour workdays take a huge toll on laborers bodies, but conditions are unlikely to change due to very minimal labor regulations. This story went viral, but Americans will still spend over $3 billion on flowers alone this Saturday, 82 percent of which will come from Colombia.
A more abstract argument against Valentine's Day is simply that there shouldn't be just one day where you're extra considerate of your significant other. A true love wouldn’t care if Valentine's Day arrangements were made; they should show their devotion to each other in simple ways every day of the year.
It's plain to see that companies like Hallmark, Walmart, Target, and every gas station and grocery store you set foot in this week, will try to exploit the wonderful feelings you have for another human being to try and make a quick buck.
Some will call me a cynic, or merely spiteful of that fact that I do not have a valentine this year. On the contrary, I'm happy for anyone lucky enough to share the wonderful experience of being in love with another person. I realize that this short column in a student-run campus newspaper isn't going to have any effect on the $17 billion industry that is Valentine's Day. However, I do have hope that a student who reads this will perhaps be more mindful of the purchases they're making on Saturday, and consider why they're really celebrating in the first place.
Molly Kinney is a journalism student with a political science minor. She enjoys reading, camping, music, art and exploring new cities in her free time. In the future, she would love to travel the world and cover politics for NPR.