Shore Musings: Money, Martyrdom, Making Out

By Collin Hall, Editor

What’s Valentine’s Day All About?

Valentine’s Day – loosely tied to the life and brutal death of a Christian Saint, has been celebrated around the world for centuries.  

Wikipedia lists the ways that countries around the world interface with this most pink of holidays.  

  • In Afghanistan, tropey Valentine’s Day poems have been used to speak out against the Taliban. 
  •  In Ireland, many devout Christians visit the shrine of St. Valentine himself.  
  • In some regions of Portual, women might gift a “lover’s handkerchief” to a doting man 

But if you waltz over to Wikipedia’s synopsis of the holiday’s impact on America, you’ll read about its monetary impact before its cultural one. 

The blurb reads that “Valentine’s Day is a major source of economic activity, with total expenditures in 2017 topping $18.2 billion, or over $136 per person.” 

If the holiday is about love, we sure love to spend money.  

And so, another holiday is reduced to the money it brings. It’s ‘meaning’ – to express love for one another – is so vague that business has been happy to step in and do the expressing for you.  

What do you mean I have to give the snot-nosed boogerhead in my second-grade class a Mario Bros. card that tenderly reads, “You’re my Super pal?”  

Corporatized as it is, I see this tradition – school-aged kids putting small cards and candy in Valentine’s Day boxes– as a joyful one. My mom would set aside the busyness of her days to help my twin sister and I craft a cardboard Valentine’s mailbox each year. We constructed them crudely, plastered them with stickers, and cut a small hole in the top where classmates’ cards would slide inside. But it was important to my mom that we made the boxes ourselves instead of surrendering the work to the Valentine section of Wal-Mart.   

When 6th grade began, and we ‘aged out’ of this tradition, I was reminded – painfully – that adulthood creeped ever-nearer.  

America’s first Valentine’s Day cards were manufactured in Worcester, Massachusetts, all the way back in 1847. A young entrepreneur, Esther Howland, was impressed by a lacy Valentine’s card her father received from England. The card seemed foreign and beautiful, just the kind of thing that might spark the imagination of the money-spending American public.  

Esther’s cards, though produced in mass (and in Mass.), still retained the flashiness of their handmade British counterparts. They were strewn with lace, gold flaking, and commanded a stately presence. 

 She didn’t skimp in quality.  

These were cards designed to express love and thankfulness for one’s fellow man. It was a heavy task.  Her cards were innovative, too. They were textured, layered, flashy, and introduced many of the aesthetic Valentine’s Day tropes that persist today.  

Americans ate it up. These cards were an inexpensive way to send lovey-dovey flair to a partner or a friend. And the cards were always meant to be written on. Esther could provide the packaging for your sentiment, but she couldn’t manufacture it for you.  

Few of the Valentine’s Day cards I have received in my life say much at all. Most mass-produced V-Day cards resemble Esther’s in concept only. The Valentine’s Day sections of Walgreens, Wal-Mart, or Target are desolate of sentiment.  

The cards sold to kids are smothered in merchandised characters and cheap phrases, with little room for the stroke of a pen.  

I think that much of the cultural action around Valentine’s Day has devolved into routine. Certainly, the passion once exhibited in America’s mass-produced cards has dwindled.  

I loved getting cards as a kid, but the tradition could use the oomf of hand-written cards, especially those made lovingly, imperfectly by small children. 

 It’s a joy to receive a hand-made letter. Even if it’s on a leaf of those Leader Printer’s notepads that float endlessly around the county. Even if it’s in a stock-standard envelope with a hand-drawn heart on the front. Even if the letter is a few sentences long, it’s a beautiful thing to receive a handmade card from someone who cared enough to write it.  

Every kid deserves to savor the holiday, to glue together a hand-made box or note. But it isn’t about the boxes or the cards. It’s about the sentiment they convey, one cheapened just a bit when pre-bought. 

A holiday about love, the most human of feelings, is too often reduced to economic stimulus. When I started making Valentine’s Day plans with my girlfriend this year, I began to think of the ways that I can capture the joy of the holiday without habitual spending.  

And if you still want to buy a mass-produced card, buy local. Don’t let corporations sap the sentiment out of a holiday predicated on the joy of human contact. Make a card this year!  

But hey! That’s just my opinion. Have thoughts on Valentine’s Day? Is your author too grumpy? Think he needs a little love? Contact Collin Hall at or give him a call at 609-886-8600 ext. 156