Why is it that we take everything that is good and try our best to turn it into something that is marketable? Take Valentine’s Day for instance. Somehow, just saying, “I love you” isn’t enough any more.
All of the hoopla started, according to legend, when St. Valentine, who was in jail at the time for marrying couples against the orders of the Roman Emperor, sent a letter to the jailer’s daughter before he was executed and signed it, “From Your Valentine.”
That supposedly started the custom of sending hand written greetings of affection, which soon led to cards with romantic poems to say what people were unable to say for themselves. The cards were called Valentines (of all things). Cards were not such a bad thing since a lot of people seem to be too embarrassed to actually say how they feel and need a poet to say it for them.
Valentines soon became more and more elaborate and were sold commercially, decorated with lace and ribbons and accompanied by flowers. When the chocolate and candy industry began to flourish with the discovery of a process for mass-producing milk chocolate, a marketing strategy associated chocolates with Valentines and packaged them in a heart-shaped box. Needless to say, the gimmick was a wild success.
Soon other commercial interests were getting in on the day. Jewelers urged you to purchase diamonds to symbolize love and purity and tried to extend the association with marriage into Valentine’s Day. Wine, perfume, lotions, scented candles, soaps, just about anything that can remotely be associated with romance, was suddenly on the market.
Department stores have racks of red sleepwear and lingerie is displayed prominently. Bakeries push sweets for your sweetheart with Valentine cupcakes and heart shaped cookies. Discount stores bloom with heart-shaped red balloons. Supermarkets, drug stores, and specialty stores all get in on the action.
Wedding chapels do a booming business in couples that want to tie the knot and say “I do” on this most romantic of days. Florists sell more flowers for Valentine’s than at any other time. One third of all roses are sold on Valentine’s Day, mostly red, and more cards are sold for Valentine’s Day than at any other time of the year except Christmas — and that isn’t even counting packaged cards exchanged by children.
So what does all this have to do with love? It seems to have more to do with merchants convincing us that we have to buy, buy, buy and not to buy is not to love. We must express our sentiment with a gift.
So, who doesn’t like flowers, cards, and candy? Not many. But don’t let the frenzy of commercialization replace what Valentine’s Day is supposed to be, the simple expression of affection for one person for another. Give gifts if you want to, or accept them for the intentions of the giver. But be sure to remember to say, “I love you.”
And now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go buy some red balloons for my grandkids and a card for my honey before all the good ones are gone.