Saint Valentine of Rome was a troublemaker. In defiance against the Roman laws circa the 3rd century, he helped soldiers to marry and ministered to the persecuted Christians. Legend has it that while in prison for these crimes, he restored the vision of his judge’s blind daughter and wrote her a farewell letter before his execution signed, “your Valentine.”
As a Saint, the church held annual feasts in his honor. Years later in the 14th century, the author and poet Geoffrey Chaucer (of The Canterbury Tales fame) started writing poems about how St. Valentine oversaw the romantic love of humans. Other poets carried the craft forward, and by the 18th century, there were practices of lovers sending Valentine’s cards and flowers to each other.
There’s the initial story of why he became a Saint, his link to forbidden love, and his letter. The church’s act of ceremonial feasts kept his memory alive for centuries as they kept retelling his story. As popular culture changed and secularized traditions, the stories, ceremonies and social conventions around them changed too. It’s not a stretch to follow that path all the way up to today and, well, Hallmark.
The components matter because they represent a template we see everywhere. The combination of a story, a ceremony, and then a social convention is powerful. Think of doctor visits, seeing a CPA to do our taxes or ongoing meetings with a financial planner. All professional services are based on the same template of story, ceremony, social convention (people like us do things like this), reinforced over time in some form of a loop.
The last part is key, because once social conventions like Valentine’s Day are reduced to a “Hallmark holiday,” it can feel meaningless. However, when we keep people connected to the story, such as the long history of celebrating romantic love through the ages, then it really does feel special. As professionals, we need to respect that balance if we want our work to have meaning beyond profits.
Happy Valentine’s Day.