Disclaimer: This month’s column is directed to my fellow cynical singles, so if you’re in a happy relationship, it’s best to skip this one. I don’t want to leave anyone out of my little rants, so here’s one word of advice for the couples – do something more original than ice skating at the sculpture garden, a monument walk or a French dinner. She (or he) will appreciate it more. OK now stop reading, and start thinking about what to do for Valentine’s Day.
Back to the singles. Why care about Valentine’s Day? The truth is, you really shouldn’t. For one thing, it celebrates a Catholic saint’s feast day. So that means anyone who fits into the Muslim, Hindu, Jewish, Buddhist, Voodoo, non-Catholic Christian, Jedi, Unitarian, Scientologist, Wiccan, etc. categories, you’re off the hook. You really don’t need to pay attention to this holiday. You’re not bound to its often-expensive customs and you get to spend your Feb. 14 doing other things. Unless of course, you prefer to celebrate feast days of other Catholic saints, in which case, I expect to see you in church on June 2 for the feast of St. Elmo (yes, Elmo was a saint before he became an annoying red puppet).
As for the Catholic population, unfortunately, the Feast of St. Valentine is pretty bogus. It’s one of those holidays that was a pagan holiday, which Pope Gelasius tweaked in the 5th century to make a Catholic holiday (as medieval popes were wont to do). Basically the pagan festival, which paid homage to the god Lupercus, had young men draw names of teenage girls from a box. Whoever the boy drew would become his sexual companion for a year. Gelasius decided that he would make the holiday a Catholic one when men drew saint’s names from a box and the game was to see who could emulate their saint the best for an entire year. Naturally, this version was slightly less popular than the original one and was a complete flop. This date also marked the first historical example of an old man not understanding a younger generation.
After Gelasius told those darn whippersnappers to get off his front lawn, he decided to save face and reincorporate the theme of love. He did this by taking advice from Lupercus and choosing a Catholic saint who could be the patron saint of love. After doing some research, he found a story of a saint who in 270 A.D. was beheaded by the Emperor Claudius. As the story goes, Emperor Claudius banned marriage because he thought married men made poor soldiers. Valentine was a priest who married people in secret after Claudius’ decree. After trying to convert Claudius, Valentine was stoned and beheaded.
While in prison, Valentine fell in love with his jailer’s daughter (the rules for priests were a lot looser back then). His love for her and his faith cured her of her blindness, which was convenient because before he died, Valentine wrote her a love letter/farewell message. This message was signed “From your Valentine,” hence the bottom-line on every Valentine’s Day card (even the Spider-Man ones).
So basically, we’re all suckers who got completely drawn into this fake holiday. Each year, we throw money at the diamond industry, card stores, jewelry stores, restaurants and Victoria’s Secret (OK, well Valentine’s Day is more of an excuse for that one I guess) all because a pope wanted to ruin (what I feel was) a perfectly good pagan holiday.