If you’re anything like me, you may not be so thrilled that Valentine’s Day is coming up. I don’t hate love or anything ridiculous like that, but I do think that we should be careful with how we observe Valentine’s Day.
The origins of the holiday of love are quite murky indeed, and depending on who you read, you can get anything from execution to bloody goat skin, which isn’t very romantic if you ask me. According to my research from the lovely folks at HISTORY, there are a few accounts of who the mysterious St. Valentine may be. However, one thing is clear: he was a priest who illegally married couples despite the vindictive decree by the Roman emperor Claudius II which outlawed marriage throughout the empire.
Claudius II believed that single men made better soldiers, so he set out to end the tradition of marriage, something our St. Valentine couldn’t go with. So, he did the most logical thing, and made the fateful decision to continue marrying couples in secret. St. Valentine would be executed in February, and later martyred by Pope Gelassius I. The other rumor is that St. Valentine was imprisoned and created the first “valentine” by passing notes to a girl he was enamored with while in prison.
Either way, both stories create the perfect picture of an odds-defying love that popular culture tries to sell today. It’s just that Hollywood has decided not to create a film with crusty Roman emperors killing those who defy them for marrying lovers in secret. But it still doesn’t answer how we got to modern Valentine’s Day.
There was a pagan festival called Lupercalia that was celebrated on Feb. 15, and was celebrated with the hope of creating greater fertility. I don’t know about you, but slapping my significant other with a bloody goat skin in the hopes that she will bear more children is hardly a gesture in modern romance. Never fear, the Catholic Church is here, and they co-opted the tradition along with our St. Valentine from above and commemorated him on Feb. 14. Thus, Valentine’s Day was created, but it wasn’t all chocolates, kissing, and rom-coms.
Today, Valentine’s Day has become a monstrosity that encompasses cards, chocolate, flowers and more, all done in the name of love. That’s great if you are currently in a relationship, but what about those of us who haven’t found the person who “makes us tick?” In one sense, we shouldn’t worry, but the cruel reality of Valentine’s Day is that it is dedicated to couples, and it ostracizes people who are single.
One reason for this is the sheer industrial volume that has consumed Valentine’s Day. According to retail statistics, Valentine’s Day has the second-highest total of greeting cards sold in the year. Sure, a card is nice every now and again, but is a $2-$4 card really the most effective way to communicate your love and affection for another human being?
Then, again, are flowers and chocolates the best way to go about expressing your love? There’s a really cool article that discusses the partnership of chocolate and Valentine’s Day. The history is a bit of a long one, but the short version is that companies began selling chocolates in heart-shaped containers which sealed the fate of those two lovebirds.
Perhaps the worst part of Valentine’s Day is the exclusion of people who are single. To be clear, you should never feel shame for being single, and a holiday about love is unable to understand this. Maybe you’ve had dreams about being Meg Ryan in “Sleepless in Seattle,” but those stories are more the exception than the rule.
I’m not sure what you’re Valentine’s Day plans might be, but I plan to embrace being single this year. I’ll probably grab a blanket and a bite to eat, and huddle in front of my television to watch a film. If you’re looking for romantic Valentine’s Day ideas, I wouldn’t go with the bloody goat skin for fertility, just try some nice alone time.
For those of you who remain unconvinced about the true nature of Valentine’s Day, check out this tweet:
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day / |
is a /____|
— JOAN OF ART (@umcornell) February 12, 2019