Sunday, February 14, 2010

The Origins of Valentine's Day (And Husband Pillow)

If you look into the origins of Valentine's Day, you'll be informed right at the start that it was established in 496 AD by Pope Gelasius I, and that the first association of Valentine's Day with romantic love was made in the Middle Ages by Geoffrey Chaucer (yup, the Canterbury Tales author). This really surprised me.  I had no idea the holiday went back that far.  I had always assumed that it was just a "Hallmark holiday" which was invented in the 1960s, probably by some cynical New York City ad man.

Reading further, however, it turns out that the practice of exchanging 'valentines cards' was first popularized in 18th century Britain (and then in 19th century America).  But Valentine's Day has only became an occasion for gift giving (chocolates, roses, diamonds) since World War II, and really only in America.

Despite having now read and watched multiple histories of Valentine's Day, I could not find a single explanation of how or why the tradition of elaborate gift giving began in the United States 60 years ago or so. If the subject is addressed at all, it is almost always said to be a practice that has "evolved." Can that really be it? It just "evolved," like an arms race?

Speaking of arms races, that's a photo above of the most bizarre Valentine's Day gift suggestion I've seen this year.  Just as it looks, it's called a Boyfriend Body Pillow.  ("The husband pillow for single women.") Would you believe it's sold out on Amazon?

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