Journal: Valentine's Day (Originally for publication in the PHS Journal)


“In the Spring a young man's fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love.”  So says Alfred, Lord Tennyson in his poem, Locksley Hall.  It’s a lovely, emotional passage that tugs at the heartstrings.  Unfortunately, if you continue reading the poem, that same young man is apparently betrayed, goes to war, marries some island savage, and sees his world destroyed by the encroachment of technology and modern society.  In other words – a typical love story.

According to many traditions, birds are said to choose their mates on the 15th of February.  That may explain why the Romans chose that date to celebrate the Lupercalia, when young men would choose a female companion for a year.  It seems that the names were sometime drawn out of a hat, and the companionship naturally included sexual relations for that year.  Exactly how the relationship progressed after that is not clear.  That tradition continued for some 800 years, until party-pooper Pope Gelasius I decided to have young adults choose Saints to emulate for the year. 

                Most people know that Valentine’s Day is now attributed to the eponymous Saint, but even the ordainer of Saints (the Roman Catholic Church) doesn’t seem clear on who he was.  He was either a priest from Terni, Italy or a bishop from that town who was beheaded on February 14th.  Unless he wasn’t.  He might also have been (instead or additionally) a priest who went to Africa and married couples even though it was forbidden to do so.  In any case, we might think it odd to celebrate the beheading of anyone, though the topic might cause married men to consider the plight of the male Praying Mantis.

                History suggests that the first Valentine’s Day card was sent by Charles, Duke of Orleans, who wrote a poem to his wife while he was a prisoner of war in England.  Though he did NOT get beheaded, he spent 25 years apart from her, then came home to generate 3 children, one of whom became King Louis XII.  There is no evidence that his card included a cute saying from a superhero comic-book character, or any solid sugar hearts imprinted with “Be Mine” or “Say Yes”.  The latter were supposedly invented about 1866, long before sufficient dental care was available to protect the lovelorn snacker.

                This year, I have heard advertisements for some pretty silly Valentine gifts.  One company thinks it’s a great idea to get your girl (or guy, I suppose) a giant Teddy Bear – something to snuggle with when you are away.  (Something that might be much bigger and more cuddly than you!)  The makers of MeUndies thinks matching underwear would be a great idea.  There are numerous implications I can think of in this that are inappropriate for a school newspaper.  Perhaps the dumbest of all is the ad for Zyppah, the anti-snoring device.  Why spend a ton of money on dinner, dancing, and a romantic evening, the pitch-man screams, only to have it all spoiled by your loved-one keeping you awake all night with their hideous snoring?  The only obvious solution is to plunk down $250 for a large, goofy-looking rubber mouthpiece that will let them sleep quietly (while you go hug your giant Teddy Bear).

                I have frequently stated that I am no expert on the subject of love, but looking at some of these Valentine’s Day items makes me feel a lot better about that.  Some of the ideas people have constructed to make the event special are perfectly silly.  The reality is that love is not part of an event, and certainly not a once-a-year thing, it is just a simple every day sort of thing.  As the Ancient Greeks knew, there are many different types of love (spousal, parental, neighborly, best-buddy, Reese’s cups, etc.) and we haven’t set aside special days for each of them.  So, if I’m supposed to offer advice here, the advice is: Don’t wait for one particular day to do important things like tell people you love them.  Do it every single day.  Maybe there will be fewer beheadings.

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