However, the anger at Hallmark and the charge that Valentine's Day celebration is a relatively modern development are both mistaken. Hallmark deserves neither the credit nor the blame for our Valentine's Day rituals. The company, founded in 1910, printed its first Valentine's Day card in 1913. The holiday itself dates back many centuries before then; it is apparently another pagan holiday that Christians attempted to co-opt, by transforming the Roman fertility celebration Lupercalia into St. Valentine's Day. Valentine's Day cards have been around since at least the 15th century—the first was rumored to have been sent by a duke, held in the Tower of London, to his wife. Their popularity is nothing new, either: In 1917's The Book of Holidays, Joseph Walker McSpadden quotes another writer who claimed that more than 1 million valentines were sent through the London general post office in 1832, and companies have been making valentines since around then. Presumably, some bloke has been grumbling about ye olde empty sentiment since at least 1829.
Jewelry companies, which are another target of anti-Valentine's Day sentiment, are also accused of evangelizing the holiday in recent years to make sales, and that may be true. But men were buying Valentine's baubles for their honeys long before the first Zales ever opened its doors in a suburban shopping mall. The 17th-century diaries of Samuel Pepys contain mention of a woman who received jewels worth several hundred pounds (in 1600s currency!) from her valentines.
Such outlandish expenses continue today, what with the special Valentine's Day prix-fixe menus and lingerie that the anti-Cupid crowd loves to hate. I don't think any couple should celebrate in a way that feels uncomfortable to them, and I certainly have no urge to pay for a prix-fixe meal myself. (No one will tell me what to order!) But you don't have to abandon the holiday entirely just because some people like to get extravagant.
After all, Valentine's Day hatred is frequently promoted by those who have their own profit motives—a rather hypocritical move, it seems. Here, I am referring less to the smug couples than to the single folks who shell out for products that celebrate their loathing of the holiday. A Chicago bakery offers anti-Valentine's Day cookies, with phrases like "I faked it" and "Careful, I break easily," for $2.95 each. There are anti-Valentine's Day gifts, too; Daily Candy recommends spending $135 on a "single" ring for the left hand or a $110 fragrance set, alongside cheaper gifts for the Valentine's Day loather. How is Bar Pilar's anti-Valentine's Day event less exploitive than the prix-fixe menus we all love to mock?
The worst part about Valentine's Day hatred is the way couples sometimes claim that they are just too in love to need it. I know that every day should be about romance, that the calendar shouldn't have to remind my boyfriend and me to take some time out and remember that we adore each other. (Yeah, it's saccharine, but true.) But our calendars are filled with dates that remind us to spend time on something—holidays that encourage us to spend time with family and to remember religious tradition; birthdays to celebrate each person's "cosmic specialness," as a friend of mine likes to say. What's wrong with Valentine's Day fitting into that? Sometimes we do need a reminder to take time out and acknowledge each other.
That's not to say that I am unsympathetic to those who find Valentine's Day to be a sad reminder, something that leaves out those who are not in a relationship; it can also put undue pressure on a relationship that is new or close to breaking. Just say that, then, instead of couching it in this language of superiority. If you dislike Valentine's Day, that's fine, but sentiments like those of the "anti-V.D. card" that says Valentine's Day is for the "brainwashed, vapid, sheeplike moron" (emphasis in the original) are, well, excessive. Maybe that guy would feel less angry and bitter if he just had a little chocolate—or a sweet Valentine's Day hug.