Is Valentine's Day a big money making con?
by Dr. Tilak S. Fernando reporting from London

"Young love is a flame; very pretty, often very hot and fierce, but still only light and flickering.

The love of the older and disciplined heart is as coals, deep-burning, unquenchable".

When Henry Ward Beecher wrote the above two lines, probably he was not contemplating on a Valentine's day or Valentine card which has become characteristic of the Valentine's day closely associated with mutual exchange of love notes in the form of 'valentines' cards. In modern times February 14 is regarded as the day of the Cupid, the child-like winged deity, the son of Venus the Roman goddess of love. In Greek mythology, Cupid is known as Aphrodite's son Eros. The modern Valentine symbols include the red rose and the red coloured heart-shaped outline with the figure of Cupid. There are varying opinions as to the origin of Valentine's Day. Some experts state that it originated from St. Valentine, a Roman who was martyred for refusing to give up Christianity. He died on February 14, 269 A.D., the same day that had been devoted to love lotteries. Legend also says that St. Valentine left a farewell note for the jailer's daughter, who had become his friend, and signed it "From Your Valentine".

Other aspects of the story say that Saint Valentine served as a priest at the temple during the reign of Emperor Claudius. Claudius then had Valentine jailed for defying him. In 496 A.D. Pope Gelasius set aside February 14 to honour St. Valentine.

According to legend, on February 14, all the young women in the city used to place their names in a big urn. The city's bachelors would then each choose a name out of the urn and become paired for the year with his chosen woman. These matches often ended in marriage. It was also commonly believed in France and England that February 14 was the beginning of birds' mating season, which added to the idea that the middle of February (Valentine's Day) should be a day for romance. The oldest known valentine still in existence today was a poem written by Charles, Duke of Orleans to his wife while he was imprisoned in the Tower of London following his capture at the Battle of Agincourt. The greeting, which was written in 1415, is part of the manuscript collection of the British Library in London, England. Several years later, it is believed that King Henry V hired a writer named John Lydgate to compose a valentine note to Catherine of Valois.

Valentine's Day began to be popularly celebrated around the seventeenth century in Britain. By the middle of the eighteenth century, it was common for friends and lovers in all social classes to exchange small tokens of affection or handwritten notes. With the advancement of printing technology, original handwritten letters which once directed one's feelings and emotions were replaced by printed cards by the end of the century.

In the 1840s, Esther A. Howland began to sell the first mass-produced valentine cards in America. Gradually, February 14 became the date for exchanging love messages and St. Valentine became the patron saint of lovers, marked by sending cards, flowers, simple gifts and often ending the day with a small gathering or a ball.

So, like Christmas, Valentine's Day has become a mega commercial hype with special Valentine dances throughout the cities and one billion valentine cards exchange hands on a single day throughout the world making just the perfect excuse to make lots of people spend even more money to avoid feeling disappointed, inadequate or insecure.

The real nature of love is of course far harder to pin down than anything we can learn out of two romantic lines. Love is one of those unexplainable phenomena that cannot be analysed under a microscope. We may use all the talents and charms in the world and spend hours on end pondering over the philosophical nature of this magic human reaction, yet fail to agree upon, the reason being that every individual's experience of love and indeed ways of showing it is unique.

Haven't we all heard the expression, 'to love another, one has to love oneself'? Wouldn't it be nicer then to offer a little bit of love in an unexpected direction this year and send a card to your own address?

I feel sorry for those who are eager to celebrate St. Valentine's Day with almost as much entrepreneurial vigour as the big December day on the calendar. Sending valentine day cards could at times be illuminating proof flashing right in the recipient's face as the shiny heart in the card with no indication or clues of the sender! Doesn't it then become a big money-making con wrapped up in an expensive shiny paper?

Coming down to the 'nuts and bolts', no one can deny the fact that we all enjoy an overdose of sycophancy from time to time, and indulge in mythical daydreams. We may try to be jolly on this special day being showered with romantic cards, bouquets of red roses, going and spending a fortune on eating out and getting drunk like fish with gal, pol or whiskey. For a different kind of valentine, it could yet be another occasion to hit a dance floor and enjoy a bit of pelvic thrust in romantic dim light and say it is just what the cupid ordered!

But let's face it, if you are forced to rely on one day of the year alone to feel that 'love is in the air' and 'happily ever after' you could be far way off, just yet!