By Dallas Ducar ’10
An estimated 1 billion Valentine cards are sent each year, according to the Greeting Card Association, a number second only to Christmas, with an estimated 2.6 billion cards being sent each year.
And what better way to say “I love you” than with a Hallmark greeting card and a $4.99 box of chocolates from Walgreens?
This festivity occurring every February has murky origins and many historians debate who the actual “Saint Valentine” was.
However, according to one of the most popular legends, St. Valentine was a Roman citizen who attempted to help Christians escape from ruthless prisons during the early days of Christianity. After many attempts, Valentine found himself imprisoned and falling in love with a young girl he met who was rumored to be the jailer’s daughter.
Because of his inability to be with his newfound love, Valentine instead decided to create and send the first “Valentine” in history. According to legend, before being put to death Valentine signed the letter “From your Valentine,” a message that many cards still keep to this day.
While this simple written declaration of love still exists in today’s version of the holiday physically, the message seems to be all but present.
Valentine’s Day is about professing one’s true feelings for another with thoughtful and personal actions. However instead of creating meaningful expressions of love, many simply buy the message for their lovers, thus defeating the true meaning of the holiday.
This has not only occurred in the case of Valentine’s Day, but in just about every major holiday in the United States. From the largest holidays like Christmas to the most obscure like Guy Fawkes Day, every holiday has become a method of profiteering.
Even the upcoming St. Patrick’s Day, yet another holiday that celebrates a revered member of the Catholic Church, has been exploited to become a moneymaking scheme.
While the holiday was brought to the United States in the early 18th century, it has been rooted in Irish tradition since 385 AD. The feast day was first celebrated in the colonies on March 17, 1737 by the Irish Society of Boston and became more widespread near the latter half of the 18th century.
Parades became social statements for the public, a way for the Irish immigrants to be heard in what many historians consider a period in American history where they were being treated quite harshly and unfairly.
However, today St. Patrick’s Day is commemorated by many people regardless of ethnic background. Many people celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, yet many of these same people don’t pause and reflect on the true meaning of the holiday.
While t-shirts marked with leprechauns and clovers sell like wildfire, a t-shirt with the depiction of the saint himself is hardly ever even seen for sale.
As Valentine’s Day has at least kept the general message of love in the holiday, St. Patrick’s Day has hardly any trace of its own origins. Stores now market just about everything green from “Kiss me I’m Irish” apparel to the green shakes at local fast food chains.
It seems St. Patrick’s Day, like many other holidays has succumbed to both the hedonistic and materialistic portions of our society. The drunken revelry combined with the constant games of pinching has really allowed us to loose focus on the holiday and tradition itself.
Just about every holiday has become a tradition for a reason, to help teach us some sort of lesson, remind us of a great deed that should be commemorated, or do both.
The word “holiday” itself originated from the middle English word for holy day or a day of reverence. The reason for holidays is not to take a day off work or get another excuse to go to a party, but to instead revere the reason for the day and reflect on its meaning.
I am not asking for the buying and selling of holiday-oriented goods to stop, nor to end festivities as a whole, but instead simply remember the reason for the season.
When we pause to reflect on either the mistakes we made as human beings in the past, or victories we carved into history, we can better learn who we are, our own place in the world and where our future will take us.
I imagine it will take more than a $4.99 box of chocolates to remind us of that.