In the immediate aftermath of another Valentine’s Day, Faye Docherty examines the customs and traditions of this contentious holiday
So there we have it; Valentine’s Day has come and gone for another year. Undoubtedly the celebrations will have left many hopelessly romantic, ready to recall the day’s events at the drop of a hat. Yet it will have also left a rather large amount of the population perplexed, still questioning what all the fuss was about. Every year, February 14th rears its head and calls for a day of professing ones love, getting overly sentimental and spending time with that ‘special’ person in your life.
There’s no denying many of us yesterday felt the pressure to leave an unforgettable impression in the minds of our loved ones. Many would argue that we are untimely victims of a fabricated holiday, one that solely takes advantage of both our romantic side and unfortunately our wallets.
Let’s face it; Valentine’s Day is extremely marketable. Chocolate shops, florists and card companies boom at this time of year. Thus, no matter how much you tried to hide from Valentine’s Day yesterday, the truth is you probably didn’t hide well enough.
One website entirely dedicated to Valentine’s Day, describes it as ‘a special day to celebrate the most beautiful emotion on this universe called Love’. There are many myths surrounding Valentine’s Day and Saint Valentine himself. The Catholic Church recognises at least three different saints named Valentine.
One myth claims that Valentine was a priest during the third century in Rome. When Emperor Claudius realized that men were better fighters if they didn’t marry or have families, he banned marriage for all young men. Valentine disagreed and so continued to perform marriage ceremonies between young lovers. Claudius soon discovered this and ordered Valentine to be killed.
Another story claims while Valentine was in prison, he would write letters to a young lady that he loved and at the end he would leave ‘Love from your Valentine.’ If this is true, Valentine himself coined the term that is imprinted on millions of cards every year. As a result, the masses began a tradition of exchanging small gifts, food and hand written letters in celebration of this event.
In more recent times, such as the end of the 18th century, Valentine’s cards started being mass-produced and became increasingly popular to buy. Since then, sending Valentine’s Cards has gained greater and greater popularity. The ‘Greeting Cards Association’ estimates that 160 million Valentine cards will be purchased this year, making it the second most popular holiday to Christmas.
This tradition of sending cards and exchanging presents has easily created expectations and pressure surrounding the holiday, although these expectations do not fall evenly between both sexes. Valentine’s Day can be seen in more ways than one as a holiday for girls to get showered with gifts and exchange little in return.
Grace Breannan, a fourth-year Science student believes this to be true. While she says, “there’s not really much you can get for guys. They don’t really want flowers and chocolates,” she acknowledges that “the girls should give a bit back”.
Meave Finnerty, a third-year Science student also recognises the pressure men must feel before the dreaded day. She adds: “I think there is more pressure for guys when it comes to Valentine’s Day. I suppose it isn’t really marked for giving things to guys and doing things for guys. It is more marked for flowers and girlie things.”
However unsurprisingly, neither of these girls minded the clear gender inequality that Valentine’s Day poses. Breannan even added that she didn’t feel it was cheesy and says “if you are one of those people with your boyfriend going over the top, it’s quite nice”.
Another concern that Valentine’s Day brings is the cost of gifts and treating your loved one. While Thomas Daly, a first-year Arts student agrees that the expectations have to be met, the day can be celebrated even on a small budget: “If you do a small gesture, it won’t cost much. I suppose it’s really about what you do rather than what you buy.”
From viewing the history of Valentine’s Day, it’s clear that it has come a long way and has changed dramatically during its journey. No doubt it will continue to evolve, possibly getting bigger and more eccentric in the future. The day can divide opinions and even make some uncomfortable, but one thing’s for certain: whether you wish it could be wiped off the calendar or excitedly wait for February 14th to roll around, what it represents is different and unique to everyone.