Thursday, February 12, 2009

Valentine’s Day Ire

You’ve heard it plenty, I’m sure—the lament that Valentine’s Day is just a holiday invented for the greedy greeting card industry, and therefore the speaker refuses to participate out of righteous resistance to such outrageous manipulation.

Is this really so horrible?

A day to remind someone you love that you care? How is this any worse than the traditions surrounding birthdays or Christmas? What’s the big deal? Participate or not, as you choose. The need to pontificate against it, though, suggests more than greeting cards are at issue.

It is a curious holiday, to be sure. After all, it’s named for a Roman priest who brought lovers to marriage in trying circumstances, and the date is the anniversary not of his birth, but of his execution. Interesting omen.

Like other modern holidays, this one falls on or between solstices and equinoxes, replacing pagan celebrations with Christian counterparts. Lupercalia, celebrated Feb. 15, featured sacrificed animals, from which the priests cut thongs for whipping all the women they encountered, to ensure fertility. A BDSM holiday.

Or perhaps you prefer the Juno Februata festival, Feb. 13 and 14, featuring boys drawing the names of girls from a hat. Valentine’s Day, in English folklore, is the day birds begin mating. So all in all, a very, um, practical, get-down-to-business kind of holiday. The courtly love tradition of the High Middle Ages whittled this down to choosing a sweetheart. So much for progress.

But detractors can still revel in a romantic priest’s martyrdom, and the massacre of seven gang members in a North side Chicago garage in a hail of seventy sub-machine gun bullets and two shotgun blasts on the morning of Feb. 14, 1929.

Just in case you don’t care for chocolate, flowers, greeting cards, fertility, erotic flogging, astronomy, romantic/sexual partners, or the mating habits of birds.


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