MARTHA SEZ: ‘The skeptics rightly believe that they are being manipulated’

Happy Valentine’s Day! If I were on Facebook, and if I could figure out how to do it, I would plaster this page with little pink and red heart emojis right now.

Some people say Valentine’s Day is nothing but a Hallmark holiday, invented by the greeting card industry as a means to rake in even more money.

Hallmark is apparently very powerful, right up there with Exxon and Pfizer and the Koch Brothers. The Hallmark Corporation greedily goes after our heartstrings in order to open our purse strings. That’s what some people say.

Yes, as Mitt Romney once pointed out, corporations are people too, and very avaricious people at that. Hallmark, say the skeptics, is not content to exploit our birthdays, anniversaries, high-school and college graduation, major holidays religious or pagan, life events including marriage, divorce and the arrival of new babies, loss and change, death and dying; no, new occasions must continually be sought out and added to the list.

The skeptics rightly believe that they are being manipulated, largely through guilt, to observe all of the celebrations and situations ordained by the Hallmark Corporation. While they probably have not thought it out this far, they sense that they are being held to some rigid standard not of their own making, over which they have no control, and in this they are perfectly correct.

It is not only Valentine’s day the skeptics complain about. No, Mother’s Day is another so-called Hallmark holiday. Never mind that in the North Country Mother’s Day is far more popular and therefore more lucrative than Valentine’s Day for shopkeepers. Still the skeptics grumble on, even as they buy cards, candy and flowers and prepare to phone home.

No one can seriously doubt that Hallmark has capitalized on Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day, their two most profitable cash cows after Christmas. Still, it isn’t true that Hallmark invented them.

Julia Ward Howe, social reformer and author of the “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” started advocating the institution of Mother’s Day shortly after the Civil War. Anna Jarvis carried on her work. Mother’s Day, celebrated on the second Sunday in May, was officially instituted by President Woodrow Wilson in 1914.

Jarvis insisted that Mother’s Day be spelled as possessive singular, rather than possessive plural, to honor each individual’s own mother, not mothers in general. This little nicety of where to place the apostrophe is no doubt lost on most people today, but I thought I’d mention it anyway.

Jarvis severely criticized the sending of Mother’s Day cards, saying it was lazy to send a card instead of writing a personal letter of thanks.

There are, however, people today who think that the Hallmark card is the proper way to show sentiment and regard, and that to express one’s feelings in any other medium is simply being cheap. It’s that darn Hallmark Corporation lobby.

The history of Valentine’s Day is obscured back in the dim (ho-hum) mists of antiquity, and no one seems able to get it straight. There were apparently several St. Valentines who have been conveniently rolled into one. There are many quaint little tales of how St. Valentine came to be the patron of lovers, but none of these stories is accepted by the Catholic Church.

In 1969, the Catholic Church in Rome dropped the feast of St. Valentine’s Day from its official worldwide calendar, perhaps tiring of all of the peace-love demonstrations of the times, and taking into consideration the sketchy history of St. (Saints?) Valentine. Still, the Church does allow local parishes to celebrate the feast day if they want to. Catholics are neither prohibited from nor required to send out Valentine cards or to buy flowers and chocolates.

Children enjoy Valentine’s Day. So do teenage girls and many women, but I’m not so sure about grown men. Again, it’s the feeling manipulated thing.

“I don’t like being expected to buy Valentine’s Day (Mother’s Day, anniversary, birthday, etc.) cards and presents,” runs the usual skeptic complaint. “I prefer to give cards and presents spontaneously, as the spirit moves me.” Blah blah.

Right. And when will that be? You realize, don’t you, you are just being churlish? Knock it off and pick up some flowers. Or follow Anna Jarvis’s advice and write a nice personal note. Take my word for it, it will go easier on you in the long run. Heartstrings, purse strings, no strings attached. Happy Valentine’s Day. You’ll get through it.

Have a good week.

(Martha Allen lives in Keene Valley. She has been writing for the Lake Placid News for more than 20 years.)