A history of Valentine’s Day at Stanford

Feb. 10, 2017, 6:11 a.m.

In 1894, the Stanford Daily announced, “Tomorrow will be St. Valentine’s Day. The pleasant custom so long observed is a marked contrast to the horrors of the death of Valentine, the bishop, who suffered under martyrdom under Claudius II at Rome. He was first beaten with clubs and then beheaded.”

At Coupa Café today, I overheard some students talking about how much they hate Valentine’s Day. (I wasn’t being creepy; they were just talking really loudly and were more interesting than my upcoming organic chemistry midterm). They were going on and on about how horrible Valentine’s Day was, and how their friend was planning a Valentine’s Day Sucks Party. So apparently, not a lot has changed in 123 years.

In 1927, Stanford liked to “officially” mark the holiday by sending out little blue Valentines of their own…academic warnings to let students know they were failing their classes. And a Happy Valentine’s Day to you too!

I always associated the 1950s with smiling Stepford wives and white picket fences, but apparently Valentine’s Day at the Stanford Bookstore got quite sassy. Does it still sell cards that say “Did I ever tell you I like you?” on the outside … and a heartwarming “I never will!” on the inside?

The Stanford Shopping Center gave out free kisses (no, not the chocolates, but actual kisses, lipstick and all) in 1977, two freshmen became engaged in 1978 (which is both incredibly adorable and totally insane), and in 1979, students got champagne at breakfast.

Since Stanford students are nothing if not ingenious, two clever graduates invented an “Insta-Date Kit” in 1985, which cost a cheap $4.95 and told you everything from dinner location to conversation topics. Unfortunately, students have yet to figure out how to include a date in the package, so that one’s on you.

By the 1990s, Mixed Company was doing an annual “Love Sucks” performance, and columnists were moaning about how Valentine’s Day is just a Hallmark marketing scheme.

Despite a general distaste for the holiday, Stanford today has a variety of traditions for this day of pink hearts and chocolates. In past years, Stanford guys have serenaded the freshmen girls in their dorm and presented them with roses, although that tradition has been changing recently because some critics don’t find it particularly modern or inclusive.

Some Greek organizations turn this contentious holiday into a way to earn money for charity. Theta, for example, visited my dorm last week to advertise their annual Crush Grams, which you can send to anyone you like (friend, crush, classmate, etc.) and earn money for charity. Relay for Life fundraises by selling candy, and a cappella group the Mendicants will serenade couples all day long.

Despite these sweet traditions, general consensus among students is that no one dates at Stanford. And that makes Valentine’s Day fairly depressing. In 2002, the Stanford Daily ran a piece that claimed, “For many Stanford students, the idea of Valentine’s Day is menacing. Valentine’s Day is a day meant to emphasize love — and those who don’t have it.”  And it turns out, a lot of people at Stanford don’t have love. In a 2014 Stanford Daily survey, 86 percent of students preferred being in a committed relationship, while only 34 percent were actually in one.

It’s kind of funny, getting so worked up over one day. Why does it matter if you’re single or not on Tuesday, when you’ll be the same way on Monday and Wednesday? (Unless you get asked out on Valentine’s Day, in which case, congrats!) It’s just a day like any other, except you have an excuse to eat chocolate and smile at strangers.

Anyway, you never know what could happen. Maybe you’ll bump into a cute guy while leaving CoHo and accidentally spill your cappuccino all over him, it will be love at first sight and he’ll buy you a new cappuccino. Maybe that guy in your class will write down his number and pass you a note when the professor isn’t looking. Maybe I’ve read too many teen love stories, and I need to stop with my examples.

Anyway, in the words of one Stanford Daily advertiser in 1974, “Happy Valentine’s Day…you little Hungarian Cookie!”


Thoughts? Contact Caroline Dunn at cwdunn98 ‘at’ stanford.edu.

Login or create an account