“The way taxes are, you might as well marry for love!” - Joe Louis
It was Benjamin Franklin who stated that there are only two certainties in life… death and taxes. It is probably about time that we add ‘social pressure to conform to stereotypes and buy a card for your significant other on 14th February’ to the quote. It’s a stereotype now followed to such an extent that Valentine’s Day is the second most popular card buying holiday with 150 million being exchanged annually.
Yes, it might seem a little odd to conflate the two but the history of each may have more in common than you might think. At the very least, Hallmark Cards will have a whopping great tax bill … depending on which one of you fine tax professionals are representing them!
The history of Valentine's Day
Celebrated every year on the 14 February, this worldwide event is steeped in history, or perhaps more fitting, mystery. The day is actually an amalgamation of ancient traditions of both Christian and Roman descent.
Some claim the founding origin was the Pagan Lupercalia fertility festival held during February. During this ritual, a goat was sacrificed for fertility along with a dog for purification. The hides of the slain animals were then gently slapped on the local women and then on the fields themselves in the hope of improving fertility in women and an abundance of crops for the coming year.
In an attempt to ‘Christianise’ the festival, the church proceeded to celebrate ‘Valentines Day’ as remembrance for martyred saints. The most common theory for this lies with the story of the Emperor Claudius of Rome in AD 287. He had deemed that single men made better soldiers and therefore outlawed marriage for all young men. However a young priest, Valentine of Rome, continued to perform marriages as he wanted to ensure the sanctity of marriage (bearing in mind his motivations could have been romantic or to propagate Christianity within society at the time). He was imprisoned for his dedication to the cause.
In the documentation there is controversy whether the Valentine of Rome, who was imprisoned, was the same martyr who fell in love with a jailer’s daughter after he cured her of blindness or whether this was a separate martyr altogether. According to legend, he gave her a note which he signed ‘from your valentine’ and is meant to be the first valentine ever sent. Alas, this love did not save him and he was sentenced to a three part execution of beating, stoning and decapitation.
Valentines Day can be seen to be merged into popular discourse in 1382 with the work of Geoffrey Chaucer who linked Valentines day to romantic love when he celebrated the forthcoming marriage of Richard II and Anne of Bohemia. Within his work ‘Parlement of Foules’ he states that “For this was on St. Valentine's Day/ When every fowl cometh there to choose his mate”. Valentines day can be seen to be further popularised by William Shakespeare in in Ophelia's lament in Hamlet “To-morrow is Saint Valentine's day,/All in the morning betime,/And I a maid at your window,/To be your Valentine.”
However, it wasn’t until the 20th century that the giving of cards was normalised and the industry began to boom. Now millions of us share Valentines cards, gifts, flowers, chocolates and champagne in an industry that is worth millions and enjoyed by many.
The history of taxes
Taxes also have a long history although theirs predates Valentine’s Day significantly. In fact the earliest Egyptian civilizations used a system of tax collectors known as scribes who oversaw the implementation of a tax on cooking oil. The ancient Greeks also had their own brand of tax known as Eisphora. This was used to pay for the many wars that took place and no one was exempt from paying it. A similar Athenian tax was also imposed on foreigners who did not have Athenian parents and was called the metoikion.
If you thought the history of Valentines day was barbaric, the establishment of the modern day tax system arguably cause a great deal more bloodshed. For example, in 60 A.D., Boadicea of East Anglia led a revolt due to the corrupt taxation practises in the British isles, this led to the death of 80,000 people. Not only did tax cause wars but it also sustained them. Britain's involvement in wars in the 18th century meant that governments frequently had to raise large loans in preference to putting up taxes to levels which would incur opposition both within and outside Parliament.
Is there a link?
In reality, there are few similarities between taxes and Valentines Day. Although both are mired in bloodshed, taxes have a far more violent, widespread and accurate lineage. Taxes are enforced from above by the crown or government while Valentines Day is kept strong from below by social pressures and, more recently, social media. However, since Valentines Day generates approximately £1 billion per year, perhaps we can conclude that the day has morphed into the modern tax on love.
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