The Not-So-Romantic Origins of Valentine’s Day

Matters of the heart are so often rife with confusing and conflicting emotions that it’s almost fitting that the man we think of as the patron saint of love has a history so vague, confusing and brutal that it’s basically a myth.

Last year, I was invited to a “single ladies outing” on Valentine’s Day where said single ladies were all getting together for an evening viewing of the romantic moving picture “Dear John.” I politely declined. There is no worse way to spend Valentine’s Day than crying with depressed, single women in a theatre full of couples. Ladies, no more of this.

What do single men do on Valentine’s Day, you ask? I posed that question to them and overwhelmingly, the three men who answered me posited that they either go out to prey on the lonely women or do absolutely nothing. Women would do well to adopt a similar attitude.

Some people base their stance on Valentine’s Day on their relationship status. I do not. I’ve come to enjoy the day for its chocolate offerings, and as a chance to make fun of those canoodlers who put their love on display on park benches and busy coffee shops; mostly though, while I have a predilection for love and romance, I dislike February 14th.

The hierarchy of Valentine’s Day cards

My Valentine’s Day disdain started in the second grade, when, being the new girl at school and not privy to the ways of the Valentine’s Day card game, I arrived to class on February 14th with Mickey and Minnie “Be Mine” cards for everyone. We had all made little paper heart cardholders and taped them to our desks the day before to collect. As I went around delivering my cards, a pretty blonde girl named Lindsey I desperately wanted to look like and be friends with said, “You brought a card for everyone?” I told her I had, and she laughed and turned to her cool friends, proclaiming: “Carla loves Adam!” Adam was a dirty-faced booger eater who made honking noises during prayer time.

The world turned very dark the day I learned about the Valentine’s Day card hierarchy. These little monsters only gave cards to certain people, and they selected different cards based on whether the recipient was a friend, acquaintance, or crush. At the end of the day, everyone counted their cards, and the kids with the most were the Valentine’s Day winners. The kids who received the least cards either cried, pretended not to care, or did as I did and drew pink hearts being pierced by blood dripping daggers.

I got four cards that day. One was from my teacher, one from my friend Mary, one from Soon, an Asian girl who was also new to the school, and my last card was from Adam, the booger face. He had made it for me out of black construction paper, glue and Wite-Out after I gave him mine, and now we were officially “dating,” which meant he pulled my hair a lot and pushed me off the tall slide on the playground.

After that, there was a school-wide rule that you either brought a card everyone in your class, or no one at all.

Imagine if your entire office had to bring everyone a Valentine’s Day card? It would be a brilliant re-enactment of elementary school politics complete with the dude who totally forgot to buy cards and scrambles to make them with used computer paper and highlighters.

As Taylor Swift would say, I knew you were trouble when you walked in, Valentine’s Day.

The myth of St. Valentine

You may like Valentine’s Day, and despite what you just read, I am not here to convince you otherwise. I did some V-Day reconnaissance, however, and would like to tell you the story behind the day, because despite what you may have heard, St. Valentine is not at all a sweet cherub ordained by Hallmark advertising wizards.

Depending on who you talk to, St. Valentine was either a Roman priest practicing in the Eternal City or a bishop in Umbria. He either got in trouble for performing Christian marriages or for healing people while “serving Jesus.” Either way, Valentine ended up in a Roman prison circa 270, which wasn’t the best place for a Christian to be at that time. Emperor Claudius II was said to have taken a liking to the charming Valentine but Claudius’s affection for Valentine waned when the smooth talking priest tried to push his Jesus agenda on the pagan Emperor. Soon after, he was bludgeoned and beheaded.

Matters of the heart are so often rife with confusing and conflicting emotions that it’s almost fitting that the man we think of as the patron saint of love has a history so vague, confusing and brutal that it’s basically a myth.

Valentine’s Day was created to overshadow a pagan holiday

In fact, so little is known about the details of St. Valentine’s life that it is widely rumoured he was chosen by the Catholic Church for his relative anonymity to cast a Christian shadow over the Pagan holiday Lupercalia. This festival was celebrated from February 13th to 15th each year to ward off evil spirits and purify Rome.

St. Valentine’s Day, celebrated on February 14th each year, under the guise of love and hearts and cherubs and romance, is actually masking a much cooler holiday that used a wolf for a mascot. If you’re into folklore, or have ever seen the film “Moonstruck,” a wolf says more much about passion and love than a curly haired adult in a diaper (sorry, Cupid).

There’s a town in Italy called San Valentino. You would think this town might be the most romantic town in a country that lives for romance, but you would be wrong. Every year, San Valentino hosts a parade called Festa dei Cornuti (the Festival of the Cuckolds), which honours – or mocks – men with adulterous wives by parading them through the streets.

Celebrate all love on Valentine’s Day, not just romantic love

Despite this town, and its strange beginnings, Valentine’s Day has become a celebration of love. The worry is that materialism and love get confused here. Not just that, but shouldn’t every day be a celebration of love? Not just romantic love, but love in general? You can’t just go around stealing dogs, yelling at baristas and kicking the backs of people’s chairs at movies, and then go buy your sweetheart flowers on Valentine’s Day like you’re Cupid’s gift to humanity, Elliot.

I have nothing against the idea of celebrating love, and I will not rant about how consumerism now trumps actual romance on Valentine’s Day. Get your wife flowers. Give your husband some chocolate. But also write your mom a letter and tell her why you love her. Call your dad to wish him a lovely day because you were thinking of him.

Whether you are single or not, make the day about loving everyone. Be a love whore. Run yourself a bath. Read a book. Go to a gallery. Love yourself. Live your life. If I had to do second grade again, I’d do it just the same. Cards for everybody.

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