By Allen Clark
Never have we needed Valentine’s Day more than now. A little bit of love, canned as it might be, goes a long way in today’s political uncertainty and unpleasantness. But what do we know about the saint or the event itself?
The holiday is rooted in the ancient Roman fertility festival called Lupercalia held annually on February 15. In the middle of the first century A.D., Pope Gelasius I turned the basically pagan celebration into a Christian feast day, switching to February 14. (How’s that for revisionist action?)
No one is quite sure after which St. Valentine the day is named; there were three, each martyred on February 14. (How’s that for odds?)
St. Valentine’s Day became associated with love in the 14th century, when Chaucer penned a poem, “The Parliament of Fowls,” in honor of the engagement of England’s Richard II to Anne of Bohemia. He linked the royal engagement, the mating season of birds, and St. Valentine’s Day. It took another five centuries for the tradition of Valentine’s cards to take hold in the United States. Today, the holiday has become a booming commercial success. According to the Greeting Card Association, 190 million Valentine’s Day cards are exchanged each year, second only to Christmas, two-thirds by the fairer sex.
Estimates are as high as $17 billion for total spending in the United States on Valentine’s gifts, cards, and meals. According to the National Retail Federation, only about 55% of Americans celebrate Valentine’s Day, but those who do shell out an average of $146.84. Jewelry beats out candy, $2.5 billion to $2.2.
Of course, you didn’t have to spend a bundle on your Valentines. A box of chocolates isn’t all that expensive. That is, unless you gave MariBelle’s Cien Red Box — 100 pieces for $260. Or, from their catalogue a couple of years ago, their Chocolate Picnic Steamer Trunk, stocked with 500 pieces of chocolate ganache, five pounds of chocolate bark and croquettes, 80 ounces of Aztec hot chocolate in four tins, a 20-ounce tin of Aztec Iced Chocolate, eight Aztec Hot Chocolate Bars, a teapot and infuser, two china teacups, a leather-bound journal, and a small library of books on chocolate (the “Chocolate Diet Cookbook,” maybe?). Now, that’s saying, “I love you,” – well worth the $15,000 price tag.
Perhaps you went for Imperial Majesty perfume by Clive Christian? As smells go, the perfume is probably swell (the ladies’ is made from Bergamot, Ylang-Ylang, Rosa Centafolia, Sandalwood, Tahitian Vanilla, White Peach, and Indian Jasmine). But at an asking price of $435,000, you’re paying for more than a smell. Only ten bottles each were created for men and women. Each bottle was handmade with Baccarat crystal, encrusted with diamonds in an 18-carat gold collar.
If you didn’t have time to hunt down the elusive bottles, you might have settled for the more accessible “No. 1” perfume for women from, yes, Clive Christian. Presented in a gold-crowned 1.6-ounce spray bottle, this $2,192 perfume was available at 75%-off online.
Still too much? Did you consider roses? Not a dozen. I was thinking, for just $350, 1-800-Flowers’ 100 long-stemmed red roses, “artistically arranged in a clear glass vase.” Clear a table for this gift; it’s an impressive 30 x 26 inches. If 100 roses weren’t enough, online Global Rose went further: a box of 500 long-stemmed red roses for $649. (I bet it’s not too late.)
Perhaps this column suggests some new ideas for next year (or even this weekend if Wednesday was a work night). Or maybe you’d like to take a different tack. I’m reminded of a Stanley Holloway LP record of old London Music Hall routines. One was a very skillful rationalization in which the singer goes through a list of possible gifts for his niece’s wedding. Starting with a piano (“But then, I don’t know; she’s the rottenest player I know.”), he moves down the price scale to a sewing machine, an Ingersoll watch, a jumper to wear (“And yet I don’t know! The girls won’t wear jumpers in ten years or so. And open-work jumpers give ladies the ‘flu. I’ll buy her some handkerchiefs, that’s what I’ll do!)