Fortunately, February does have holidays, no doubt meant to distract us from the biting cold and overcast skies. Aside from being designated as Black History Month, there are Groundhog Day, the ancient pagan holiday of Candlemas (usurped by the Catholic Church), President’s Day, Boy Scout’s Day, the lesser known Make a Friend Day (people really needed that?) and White Tee Shirt Day, among many, many others.
Really. Look it up. You’d be amazed at all of the weird holidays created by obviously bored people.
My favorite, however, has always been Valentine’s Day, observed on February 14th.
“Sure”, you might say, “You’re in a relationship…of course you like Valentine’s Day”.
One might even argue that, since it’s been determined that I was most likely conceived on Valentine’s Day, I could possibly be predisposed to favor the day.
Believe me; nothing could be farther from the truth. The thought of my parents playing a game of “hide the weasel” after a six pack of Schlitz isn’t something I care to dwell upon.
Gross. Really, really gross.
The truth is I’ve liked the holiday since I was a kid and, each year, was excited to create my own distinctive “Valentine’s Day box.” Along with my classmates, we would each decorate old shoe boxes and the like with hearts and crepe paper flowers to place in our classrooms, for the purpose of being filled with Valentine’s Day cards that our parents would buy in those big bulk packages.
One year, when my parents were in the midst of a bitter divorce, my mom was too strapped for cash to afford the cards or the materials necessary to create a box for me to take to school. As a result, I was humiliated by having to write my name on a plane brown paper bag, which I reluctantly placed among the crepe and construction paper adorned creations of my second grade classmates. It’s amazing how vicious kids can be and I remember wondering why my friends were laughing at my bag, when all I wanted was to have a box, too. I cried that Valentine’s Day, embarrassed that I was too poor to give out cards or to even have a pretty box to hold those intended for me.
Nevertheless (and many therapy sessions later), I have continued to appreciate Valentine’s Day into adulthood, whether single or married. There’s something truly sweet about the day that has always spoken to the romantic inside of me, despite the insistence of some friends, who have in the past insisted that the day is nothing but a sham holiday where we’re all pressured by the all-powerful greeting card and florist industries into going out and spending far too much money to buy chocolates, flowers and a card.
I was curious about Valentine’s Day, the day I went from being an awkward sexual encounter to an awkward mass of cells, so I dropped in for a little visit with my friends at Wikipedia.com. I was surprised and a little disappointed to learn that my friends might have been right about the holiday being a sham.
It turns out that St. Valentine’s Day (its official name) was established in 500 AD by Pope Gelasius I (Patron Saint of Gelato???) to honor Valentine, a Christian martyr. Valentine, by the way, is derived from the word Valens, meaning “worthy” or “strong.”
That’s your Latin lesson for the day.
Unfortunately, nobody really knows who this Valentine dude was or exactly how he died. According to Wikipedia, he was one of several martyred saints of Rome (italics mine). He was either a) a priest, b) a bishop or, c) some random dude martyred in Africa. Further, one of the aforementioned may or may not have healed his jailer’s blind daughter prior to his execution.
No matter how you look at it, I see very little romance involved in any of those scenarios, unless the daughter was very, very grateful. Still, it ended in execution, so the point of a romantic holiday seems rather hazy.
Anyway, for some damned reason, the original date for St. Valentine’s Day was picked in order to supersede the Roman-pagan pastoral festival of Lupercalia. By all accounts, Lupercalia was really cool holiday with orgies and feasting and all manner of shenanigans meant to welcome back warmer weather. Then the early church came along and turned it into the observance of a martyred Christian. Way to go, early church.
First it was Yule, Ostara and Candlemas that they took, but Lupercalia, too? It seems like the early church was awfully grabby with those pagan holidays.
To make a long story short, the purpose for St. Valentine’s Day was eventually deemed so confusing that it was deleted from the Roman Calendar of Saints by Pope Paul IV in 1969.
So why do we still celebrate?
The continued observance of the holiday, it seems, has been attributed to none other than Geoffry Chaucer, best known for the bawdy Canterbury Tales, during the middle Ages, and the era of courtly love. And, despite the skeptics out there, the holiday does have an unmistakable charm, which seems to have survived the centuries.
To seemingly further support the insistence of friends who say the day is about nothing more than needless consumerism, the US Greeting Card Association estimates that 190 million Valentine’s cards are sent each year with an estimated 15 million e-Valentines sent in 2010.
No matter, the day still speaks to the romantic in me and, based on the numbers above, I’m not alone. Whether you and your other half are like Romeo and Juliette or more like George and Martha, the day seems to bring out the romantic in us all. And I am, indeed, fortunate to have spent the past nineteen years with the same Valentine. While that sounds impressive, I’m reminded of a quote taken from Mark Twain:
“Love seems the swiftest, but is the slowest of all growths. No man or woman really knows what perfect love is until they have been married a quarter of a century.” (Notebook, 1894)
A few years back, I told my partner, Tim, about that awful Valentine’s Day way back in the second grade. We’ve shared lots of stories about our childhoods, about the humiliation of growing up in poor families, little embarrassments, our deepest secrets. True to his amazing self, Tim surprised me the following Valentine’s Day with my very own Valentine’s Day box, hand-decorated with cutouts and little embellishments. It might not yet be a quarter of a century, but Tim gives me daily glimpses of what perfect love must look like. For him I take a quote from the Bible.
“I have found the one whom my soul loves,” Song of Solomon 3:4
Wishing you all love, every day of the year.
BY: CURTIS COMER