It’s tempting (and would be convenient) to dismiss Valentine’s Day as a “Hallmark holiday” devised by marketing execs to monetise our emotions. It’s certainly big business: US citizens will spend a whopping $25.9bn (£20.6bn) on the occasion this year, predicts the National Retail Federation.
That alone could be enough to cool the passion. However, contrary to popular belief, Valentine’s Day has been around much longer than capitalism. While nobody knows for certain its origins, the earliest evidence of a Valentine’s letter written in English is from 1477. It was penned by Margery Brews of Norfolk, England, who sent it to her fiancé John Paston calling him “my right well-beloved valentine”. The letter is now part of the British Library’s collection.
Geoffrey Chaucer’s 14th-century poem, Parliament of Foules, contains an even earlier reference to “Seynt Valentynes day”, describing it as the day “whan every foul cometh ther to chese his make” (when birds come to choose their mates).
Love, then, has been in the air on 14 February long before Hallmark started printing cards. It begs a question: how do you celebrate this time-honoured event while avoiding cliche and commercialism? We would love to know for an article to be published ahead of Valentine’s Day. Get involved by filling out the form below.
Main image: Brooke Cagle
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