St. Valentine's Day Lost in Consumerism

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Amidst the hectic scrambling for dinner reservations and artfully prepared floral decorations for Valentine's Day, it's unlikely that one may stop to think about who St. Valentine was or why his feast day is celebrated with red-heart gift cards and plush teddy bears.

Philip A. Florio, S.J., assistant to the vice president of student life at Saint Joseph's University in Philadelphia, says that St. Valentine's feast day has undergone a number of changes over the past 2,000 years, not all necessarily for the better.

According to Florio, very little history is known of Valentine, who was most likely a bishop in third century Rome and was publically beheaded for refusing to denounce the name of Christ. His feast day was set as February 14 by the Church to commemorate his heroic life.

However, Valentine's name was not associated with romantic and courtly love until the 14th century, when Geoffrey Chaucer incorporated St. Valentine's Day into a love poem, said Florio. The holiday was further made popular in the 19th century, when Valentine's Day cards were first mass produced.

Even though St. Valentine is still recognized as a martyr in the Catholic Church, his feast day was removed from Roman martyrology in the mid-twentieth century to make room for more recognizable and important saints. More than anything else, however, Florio denounces the transformation of the feast away from religious celebration and toward consumerism.

"I think the secularization of Valentine's Day has cheapened St. Valentine's legacy, without a doubt" said Florio. "What we have today is a Hallmark occasion."

While Florio feels that Valentine's Day does represent an opportunity to show love to those you care about, he also laments St. Valentine's feast day transforming into a consumer-driven holiday, not unlike Christmas.

"An explicitly spiritual and religious festival for a martyr turned into a feast day for valor and love, which then turned into a secular romantic opportunity for fine dining and diamond earrings and 'every kiss begins with Kay,'" said Florio. "Something got lost."

Fr. Florio can be reached for comment at pflorio@sju.edu or 610-660-1025, or by calling the Office of University Communications at 610-660-1222.




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