Saint Valentine’s descent from religious martyr to corporate whore

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By Emily Bowers and Emily Hill

Once upon a time, St. Valentine’s day wasn’t about Hallmark cards, red roses and romantic dinners for two. Once upon a time, the word Valentine referred to a man who died for his faith.

Historians ­­­­­still can’t agree on the exact saint for whom Valentine’s Day was named, but the most poplar story is that the first Valentine was a priest in Rome who was arrested for openly practicing Christianity in a time when the religion was outlawed

Valentine was ordered to live with magistrate Asterius and his blind, adopted daughter. He fell in love with her, curing her of his blindness and converting the family to Christianity.

For this, Valentine was ordered to be killed on Feb. 14. As he waited for his execution, he wrote a simple note to Asterius’ daughter and signed it ‘Love, your Valentine.’ There were no chocolates, no sexy lingerie and no diamonds, but this was the beginning of associating Valentine’s Day with romantic love.

The holiday that’s been named for the blood of a martyr is now associated with blood-red roses, Hallmark cards and sex.

And the marketers who helped make it so have no qualms pitching $180 boxes of chocolate and porno film packs to get you in the mood. St. Valentine’s Day has become an occasion for mass marketing romance and sex on demand.

Claudia Brown, executive director of St. Philip Neri House chaplaincy at Ryerson, says the meaning of Valentine’s Day was rarely discussed during her Christian education.

“We didn’t really spend a lot of time thinking about the saint behind it.”

Feb. 14, for the most part, has nothing to do with love anymore and isn’t really a special holiday.

Brown thinks the commercialization of Valentine’s Day is harmless when it comes to cards and candy, by these days, she says, things have gone too far.

“It’s become all about new variations of sex.”

She thinks Feb. 14 has nothing to do with love anymore and isn’t a special holiday.

And if Valentine’s Day is all about sex, marketers hawking their wares this time of year are making sure sex sells.

Lara Mills, associate editor of Marketing Magazine, says holidays such as Valentine’s Day are easy sells. Consumers already know holidays are coming and the advertising is done when they flip their calendars from January to February.

Seasonal campaigns are drawn out to cover as much of the year as possible. Halloween leads into the Christmas season, and as soon as signs come down for the end-of-year sales, chocolate and roses pop up for Valentine’s Day.

“The amount of holiday tie-ins have increased,” says Mills, “and consumerism has grown.”

Advertisers have made their holiday campaigns more aggressive in recent years, she says. This Valentine’s Day, Godiva chocolates is pushing a $180 customized heart-shaped box of gourmet chocolates by holding a draw to win diamond bracelets and necklaces.

But having a special someone to spend Valentine’s Day with doesn’t always mean spending big bucks on tokens of affection.

Katherine Vandenbussche, 24, a first-year food and nutrition student, has resisted advertisers’ coercion and has never gone out of her way to celebrate Valentine’s Day with her boyfriend of three years.

“I notice it commercially in stores, [they] go overboard,” she says. It’s a lot of pressure.” The holiday lost its appeal for Vandenbussche when she left junior high.

“It’s a commercial holiday. [We] don’t celebrate it.”

Cory Silverberg, owner of Come As You Are, 701 Queen St. W., says the day before Valentine’s Day is the se shop’s busiest day of the year.

He thinks people are kidding themselves if they believe the holiday is about love and romance — it’s really about sex.

“People feel that certain sexual pleasures are not their rights, [so Valentine’s Day] gives them an excuse,” he says. Vibrators and kinky toys are no longer taboo on this holiday, allowing reserved couples to break the chains of routine for a day of uninhibited sexual fun.

Small gifts such as massage oil and vibrators are always popular, but for the easy to please, willing to experiment sort, the store also has pre-packaged gift kits ranging from $30 to $82.

The Pillow Book kit contains the Kama Sutra, a small red vibrator and flavoured lubricant, while the Red Hot Raunch kit kicks it up a notch with three hardcore porno flicks.

Some marketers have even succeeded in luring single shoppers into their stores on Valentine’s Day.

Andrea Nene, 19, a first-year journalism student, is spending this Valentine’s Day solo. But that doesn’t mean she hasn’t ventured past the red-and-pink hues of store windows hawking ribbons and lace. She picked up some chocolate for her pals.

“It’s a socially accepted thing,” she says. “I kind of feel obligated to do it.”

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