Based on a 2016 American Express report, you can estimate that an average of six million couples got engaged last night on Valentine’s Day. And that’s not even taking into account a large number of couples (like my parents) who decided to get married on this special day of love. This holiday which as I said primarily revolves around love, one rock hard fact is that Valentine’s Day is good for business. Businesses in fact. The Society of American Florists estimated that 198 million roses were produced for the Valentines Day holiday in 2010 alone while consumers will purchase more than $448 million dollars worth of candy during Valentine’s week. That equates to nearly 58 million pounds of chocolate sold (which is working its way to the 90 million pounds of chocolate purchased during Halloween season). It is also reported that jewelry stores sell an estimated $2.5 billion dollars in jewelry within the first 14 days of February. That same American Express report that claimed an average of six million couples will get engaged on this one night, also stated that the average cost of an engagement ring was well over $2400. So why all the fuss?
We know that Valentine’s Day is on February 14th in remembrance of St. Valentine’s murder (though it is not known whether it was actually the 14th or the 24th). Why was St Valentine linked to love? Well, he was executed because he, a temple priest in Rome, was marrying Christian couples in a time when Christians were being persecuted by the anti-Christian Emperor Claudius. So what are some other common things about Valentine’s Day? We buy flowers because they are beautiful (like our women). We buy diamonds because they are a girl’s best friend and the circular nature of a ring represents the love that those people will forever share (though the tradition of ring-giving goes back hundreds of years and has historical and religious influences). And it even makes sense to use that ring to ask your beloved to marry you on Valentine’s Day (in fact Pope Nicholas I attempted to make it legally necessary for men to make a large monetary sacrifice and purchase an expensive, gold engagement before you could ask a woman to marry you); but one thing that I have always wondered is: why do men get down on bended knee to propose?
The intention of betrothal and marriage proposal in the Western hemisphere is interesting and has taken on influences and parts of traditions from many places throughout history while the actual act of proposing on bended knee with a diamond ring is definitely not a modern invention. One possible origin story for kneeling to propose is the tradition of courtly love popular during the Middle Ages. The man would present himself before her and kneel as he spiritually and figuratively offered himself in servitude to her love. In the Middle Ages, to kneel meant a ‘feudal surrender and admiration’. Throughout European history, the act of kneeling meant a promise of servitude which is also why kneeling is largely linked to Christian iconography. Prayer, in the Christian faith, largely involved kneeling; but it wasn’t just in the relationship between God and man that men would kneel to someone. Knights would kneel to their Lords and a surrendering army would be told to kneel before their conqueror.
So essentially when a man drops down to his knee, kneels before you and pulls out an expensive engagement ring; know that it means a surrender of themselves to you and a true show of admiration to the woman he loves. Or it may be because he just thinks that that is what he has to do because of its tradition. Honestly, what’s wrong with a little tradition every now and then?
Engaged couple by Paul García Fotografía paulgarciafotografia – https://unsplash.com/photos/gc0BvNeGfuMImage at the Wayback Machine (archived on 25 April 2017) Gallery at the Wayback Machine (archived on 29 April 2017), CC0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=61708357
St Valentine Kneeling in Supplication by David Teniers III – http://www.1st-art-gallery.com/David-III-Teniers/St-Valentine-Kneeling-In-Supplication.html, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=9111285
Carmen Diamond Engagement Ring by 1791Rings – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=21319137
Buy Bonds the GI Way proposal advertisement by Al Capp – U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=16928990
Regency period Proposal, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=773626
Featured Image – 1885 Proposal Caricatureby H. Schlittzen – Own work, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=785309