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Thursday, February 14, 2008

Valentine's Day for Dummies

History has tried to fill in the blanks about the life and death of St. Valentine. Was a he a priest who secretly married Roman couples in defiance of the Emperor's edict forbidding young men from marrying? Did he help Christians escape from Roman prisons? Did he fall in love with the jailer's daughter and send her a letter signed "from your Valentine?" Obviously, we'll probably never know the details.

Celebration of his life (or death) was probably a Church response (at least at first) to the pagan celebration of Lupercalia, a fertility festival. (Yes, yet another pagan holiday/ritual co-opted by the Catholic Church.) St. Valentine's Day was made an official day on the Church calendar in 495AD and held some romantic significance even then. The oldest Valentine still in existence was written in 1415. Mass-produced Valentines became available in the US in the 1840s. Sorry, gang- you can't completely blame "Big Greeting Cards" for all the fuss.

I remember back in grade school when February 13th rolled around and we'd scramble to fill out the goofy Valentines to hand out to the kids in our class- and we were always sure to not forget anyone, whether or not we liked them. And then Mom and Dad would make sure there was some kind of special treat for the day (and, come to think of it, that hasn't changed).

In high school, they'd sell carnations for $1, and they'd be delivered in homeroom so everyone could tell who had a sweetheart. I can't remember actually having a sweetheart on Valentine's Day, and my friends and I would send each other carnations so we didn't look like total losers.

I bring all this up because today is that day again. Jewelers head into the black this time of year. Halmark has made its fortune. Whitman's can scale back production for a couple of months before gearing up for the Christmas rush. The press has gotten into the holiday spirit... sort of. Politically correct Valentines? Give me a break.

I'll admit it. Now that I'm an adult, I guess I'm a little jaded. It seems... unfair to force people to proclaim their devotion one particular day a year. Shouldn't they be telling their special someone they care every day? Not in a big, showy, pricey way, but just the little things that say what some chocolate and a bauble never could. And, is it really a true display of devotion if it's forced? (All that said, no, I'm not going to refuse a Valentine if it's given. Who am I to turn down a gift? That's rude. Call me a hypocrite if you want- I don't expect a gift- that's the difference.)

So... Happy Valentine's Day. If you are sans sweetie today, go buy yourself a treat.

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