|Valentine's Day is very much a retail-driven holiday, but still women (and men) just want to feel loved. (Fotolia)
Valentine's Day is a holiday as much about giving gifts as it is about showing love.
But the women aren't complaining.
If Valentine's Day is viewed as a "woman's holiday," we can thank our 19th century ancestors for that gender branding. The commercial gift giving of this holiday has not changed significantly since.
"Women were constructed to be the primary recipient of these gifts and the people who are primarily invested in this holiday," says Heather Evans, an English professor at Queen's University.
Men on the other hand were encouraged to be the purchasers back then, and many would say they still are.
"I don't know that many men who sit around and say, 'I wonder if my girlfriend is going to get me something?' Other than the anxiety of 'Geez she's going to get me something, I pretty much have to top that,'" Evans said.
The exact roots of Valentine's Day aren't exactly known. St. Valentine was said to be a priest who married young couples in secret during the time of Roman Emperor Claudius II, who barred young men from getting married because he believed single men made better soldiers.
During the age of Antiquity, the Romans celebrated a Festival of Fertility, which typically took place in the middle of February.
"As for the recognizable form of Valentine's Day ... that too has evolved over the centuries," says Evans. "It appears to have been a little bit of an accident that we associate this day of lovers with this date in the middle of the February, as some scholars suggest it was attributable to writers like Chaucer, who kind of poetically attributed Feb. 14 to when the birds choose their mates."
Young men and women in the peasantry or working class weren't so lucky to be able to choose their own valentine around the 16th or 17th century, where they would draw names out of a hat. It's said young people would pin the name of their partner to their sleeve.
The act of exchanging gifts is a little more recent, Evans says, as upper classes in the 17th and 18th centuries would give tokens, flowers or other trinkets to each other.
The emergence of card producers and marketers in the 19th century gave rise to the commercialization we see today. Now celebrated around the world, the holiday has changed and adapted to the trends of the day, says Andrij Brygidyr, president of A&A Merchandising Ltd. and a professor at the Rotman School of Management
"It is very much a retail-driven holiday, not invented by Hallmark, but they just jumped on it ..." he said. "We have seen interesting innovations now with Valentine's Day. For example, the pharmaceutical companies are all getting into it with Viagra and Cialis and tying it into Valentine's Day."
DID YOU KNOW
About 1 billion Valentine's Day cards are sent out every year in North America, second only to Christmas. It's also good to be a teacher on Valentine's Day, as a poll found they receive the most cards.