By Chua Jia Ying
For as long as I can remember, Valentine’s Day has always been dedicated to celebrating all things love and romance related. While February 14th is perpetually sad and lonely for me personally, it turns out that rather than the sweet holiday that we know of today, Valentine’s Day used to be a much darker and gorier holiday. Maybe being single is actually the way to go?
Let’s take a look at how this celebration made its way to becoming a mainstream holiday widely celebrated across the globe. It’s rather complicated to trace the roots of this well-known holiday since it has transcended many legends, but the most well-known one originates from ancient Rome, where men would hit on women not by gifting them chocolates and roses, but by… literally hitting them.
The Romans celebrated the feast of Lupercalia from February 13th to 15th. The celebrations involved sacrificing a goat and a dog. As if that wasn’t savage enough, the men would then proceed to whip women with the hides- animal skin that’s been treated for human use- of the animals that were sacrificed earlier. Young women would- believe it or not– line up to be whipped because they believed that the act of whipping would increase their fertility.
Another interpretation of the origins of Valentine’s Day also comes from Rome, showing us where the holiday got its namesake. On February 14th, the Roman emperor had executed two men, coincidentally sharing the same name- you guessed it, “Valentines”- on two different occasions. You may be wondering why. Surely, they can’t have been killed for no reason at all, right? Well, one of the men was a priest who was beheaded for supposedly curing the jailer’s daughter of her blindness; while the other was a bishop who wed couples in secrecy, against the laws of the Roman emperor. It was said that the latter met his demise by being burned at the stake. Yes, more bloodshed.
As the years went on, the holiday changed from what was full of darkness and executions to what we’re familiar with today. The 21st century Valentine’s Day owes its interpretation to Shakespeare and Chaucer as they were known to have romanticized the holiday in their literary works (Thank goodness!). Their work quickly gained widespread recognition and the idea was popularised throughout Britain and the rest of Europe. As a result, handmade cards became staple gift tokens on Valentine’s Day and the act of gifting cards became a tradition. Following the Industrial Revolution, factory-manufactured gift cards became go-to gifts for a variety of special occasions.
Since then, Valentine’s Day celebrations have grown and become rapidly commercialised. Gift cards are still a staple gift for the holiday, but companies have progressed beyond manufacturing simple cards. Now, there are special cosmetic collections, accessories, garments and everything else you can think of (with a hefty price tag attached to them), catered towards those willing to break the bank purchasing these limited edition gifts for their loved ones. In fact, their limited edition labels make them all the more desirable. Today, the holiday is a lucrative opportunity for businesses to up their profits. How romantic.
That being said, although the gifts have evolved and the holiday has taken a more commercial edge; in the end, it still shouldn’t stop us from using this celebration as an opportunity to show the people around us- be it our friends, family or loved ones- that we care for and value them. Every year, 50 million roses are gifted on this day alone across the globe. Perhaps this year you can contribute to that sum by purchasing a bouquet for a special someone?
Fun fact: It was believed that if a girl saw a goldfinch flying overhead on Valentine’s Day, she would end up marrying a millionaire in the future. (Now, where do I find a goldfinch in Malaysia?)