Originally known as St Valentine's Day, it was a celebration of the Catholic martyrs born on this day. The holiday was rather confusing however, as the Catholic Church originally recognized eleven St Valentines, only two of whom were given homage on February 14th. It seems even more confusing to me today however (and particularly ironic) that a holiday originally designed to celebrate a Roman Catholic priest (Valentine of Rome) and a Catholic bishop (Valentine of Terni), both of whom were sworn to celibacy, are honored with a day of secular romance.
Others trace the holiday and its rituals to the pagan worship of Juno, the Roman goddess of love and marriage, which seems to make more sense (if you take off the whole Sainthood part). Like many other pagan holidays, it is said that they and their practices were simply co-opted by the early Catholic Church, to be used for their own means on this calendar date. I will not continue to bore you with the history of the holiday through the ages; but will however let you know that it did manage to survive through the Middle Ages and had evolved into the practice of giving cards by the 19th Century, with North America following England in doing so.
The first commercially mass produced cards in the US were in fact credited to around 1847 in Massachusetts. Of course one of the most famous of St Valentine's Days, was that of 1929 when six members of the George "Bugs" Moran gang and Dr. Reinhardt Schwimmer were gunned down in a Chicago garage in the "St. Valentine's Day Massacre". The primary target, Bugs Moran, managed to be absent from the event and survived many more St. Valentine's Days to die of cancer in 1957. Credit for the "hit" was given to Al Capone and his henchmen, but no one was actually convicted of the crime. Al himself, in a further irony of the holiday, died of cardiac arrest in 1947 likely linked to Syphilis (a sexually transmitted disease) that he had contracted years before.
Today however, anyone showing up with nothing more than a card (or heaven forbid, a machine gun) in hand will likely receive a chilly reception. Like many other a gift-giving holiday, consumerism has captured the true spirit of the day. Candy, teddy bears, lingerie (pajamas for those of you of a less libidinous inclination), flowers, and dinner are now considered the expected minimum offerings to a loved one. Anyone with true feelings romance on this day however, will cough up the big bucks for jewelry or a car (nothing says love like a new pickup truck, after all).
And once again, we allow the peddlers of the world to turn romance into a the opportunity for obscene profit, while the gullible lover is backed into a corner where the only path to demonstrating true affection is one which leads to considerable debt. Now just to prove that I am not entirely without a heart where this day is concerned (no jokes about conservatives here please), I must point out that I got married for the first time on Valentine's Day. I am sure that there are some cynics out there who might say that I did so, not out of a true sense of romance; but in a devious effort to save myself from having to buy jewelry that year, and from the future burdens of both a Valentines Day and Anniversary present every year after (but who would believe that I could be that clever).
In the spirit of full faith and disclosure, I will also point out that I admitted to that first marriage date early in my relationship to my 2nd wife, thereby eliminating Valentines Day as a romantic holiday. (She didn't want to celebrate the anniversary of my first marriage, go figure ...) I must also admit that I have been single for the last eight years, reducing the number of romantic holidays that I have been required to celebrate (and the fact that I am getting old and fat can have no bearing on this, I'm sure).
I'm sorry to say that I will be without romantic entanglement again this year on Valentine's Day, but take some consolation in the fact that I will also not be caught up in the mindless consumerism that the day has become. Besides, I consider myself an incurable romantic (you could tell from this posting, right?), and that means that having to limit myself to the expression of affection on a single day would simply be incomprehensible. In fact, I would have to say that anyone who places all of their romantic eggs in this one basket can make no such similar claim. I will go even further and say that any man who only shows that he cares on Valentines Day is no man at all, and any relationship which requires a day to remind two people of the love and affection that they feel for each other is probably doomed already.
I will therefore call out this Hallmark Holiday for what it is, a travesty ill used to celebrate what true romance is all about; and a weak excuse to firm up the bottom lines of candy makers, jewelers and florists. It has therefore become, in my humble opinion, little more than humbug.