Did Greeting Card Companies Invent Valentine's Day?

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Every year at Valentine’s Day I hear the same complaint from single and partnered friends alike. They gripe that the holiday is a fabrication devised by greeting card and candy companies to promote consumerism in the retail lull during the post-Christmas slump.

It is a lucrative business. After Christmas’ 2.6 billion cards, Valentines is the second most popular holiday for greeting cards with over 1 billion cards sent. 85% of the people that purchase these cards are women. Hopefully the men they love are at home making their own cards to even out the sentiments shared.

Believe it or not, the practice of sending Valentine messages predates Hallmark. It goes back to the middle ages. Like most holidays Christians and Pagans both claim roots. The Pagan fertility festival of Lupercalia was celebrated on the Ides of February. Priests would sacrifice a goat and a dog then slap women and crops with the bloody hide to bless them with fertility. Young singles were also paired off for the year by drawing names from a large urn; some of them would get married and others would try again the next year.

Christian celebrations rose from honoring St. Valentine who was martyred on February 14th. The legend explains the Roman Emperor Claudius II outlawed marriage in his quest to make better soldiers. Despite this decree Valentine preformed wedding ceremonies in secret. Discovering his deceit, Claudius sentenced the priest to death. While awaiting execution, Valentine miraculously healed and fell in love with the jailer’s daughter. Before he died he sent her a love note signed, “From your Valentine” and the tradition was born.

Exchanging Valentines became popular in America in the 1700s. The greeting card companies didn’t get involved until 1840 however when Ester A. Howland began mass-producing Valentines. Her cards were elaborate creations made of lace, ribbon and colorful scrap images. By the 1900s printing technology and postage rates escalated the popularity of premade cards and they began to replace handmade sentiments.

So to all of my Valentines conspirator-theorist friends, you may say it’s the work of corporations and blame capitalism but the truth is people just got lazy. If it bothers you, or if you’re broke, buck the system and make your cards this year instead of buying them. Check out these awesome ideas to get you started. What’s the best Valentine you ever received? Let me know in the comments below.

By Heather Fairchild - Heather is a multimedia developer with experience in web, film, photography and animation as well as traditional fine arts like painting and sculpting. In addition to writing for Beyond.com, she is co-founder of a design and promotion company. Heather’s spare time consists of making puppets, teaching Sunday School, building Legos and doing science experiments with her children.

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