by Caroline Keem
Last February 14th my significant other, my partner in crime in a biiiiiiig long distance relationship decided to call me up to “wish you a Happy Valentine’s Day” (after weeks of phone silence). He was on the subway, heading to work. I could hear people talking, the rattle of the train and the bing bong of the intercom in the background. I could hear his preference for the distraction of his plans for the day and the “thought he should give Caroline a call” obligatory tone to his voice. The conversation lasted 5 minutes. When I hung up I knew that whatever we two thought we were doing, I had felt that pang of disappointment for the last time. That relationship was over. I hate this holiday.
Valentines Day has rubbed my ego the wrong way pretty much ever since I became too old to hand out paper valentines and eat the chalky candies with trite sayings printed on them without collecting funny looks. I’ve spent the balance of my adult era Valentine’s solo or “hanging out with the gals”. I worked retail one year and watched waves of men with frightened expressions on their faces tear whatever they could afford off the shelves of our gift shop just to avoid the painful reprisals of coming home empty handed on the big V D. This holiday wraps such great amounts of retail confusion up in a big red ribbon… it’s almost like Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s packaged into one major disappointment.
I had so far religiously planned to wear black from head to toe next Monday, like I do every year. But all this week I’m walking past stores filled with red hearts and photos of happy couples. After seeing this enough I really just start to wonder, am I missing something? Or is the market conditioning just not working on me? So, I decided to take a look at the origins of symbols commonly associated with Valentine’s and to share my findings.
Red, associated in Eurocentric color theory with heat and passion, has the shadow quality of also representing blood, war and violence. Isn’t that a lovely mix? In addition, Red is generally associated with bad times in the financial realm. So, what’s good for love is bad for money (it’s just not fair!). And while red may represent love and desire, just try to get married in a red dress and watch eyebrows shoot into the air.
The Heart Shape:
This one is a bit trickier to pin down since the heart shape is almost as old as the circle symbol itself. It evolved globally and meant different things to different peoples. In Ancient Rome it was associated with fertility (and considered to be the shape of a man’s genitals) while the Greeks associated it with the lyre, an attribute of Eros. In Scandinavia it is associated with defecation. In parts of Africa it means “turn back and retrieve something forgotten”. The heart began to appear in early heraldry associated with a Swedish king known for his work to protect the safety of women. The heart shape did not come to be associated with romantic love until Victorian times.
Now lets get down to the man himself. Who was he?
Well, the Catholic church recognizes 3 different saints known as “Valentine” or “Valentinus”, all of whom were martyred. Early Christian record keeping can’t be relied upon to deliver much in the way of a 21 st century kind of fact. But, we do know more about the origin of the Day.
Rather than commemorating the Saint’s life, Valentine’s Day was planted in the middle of February to Christianize a pagan fertility holiday called Lupercalia. This move was typical to the early Christian church as evidenced by the presence of Easter and Christmas on the calendar. Lupercalia involved all those fun things Christians hate such as goat sacrifice, candies shaped like men’s genitals (there’s the heart shape again), women picking men’s names out of a bowl to select a new mate for a year, and probably, after enough wine, lots of public fornication, too.
So there you have it. Another retail holiday thinly wrapped in social mythology and misconception. It’s really a holiday about fertility in honor of a martyr. Perhaps this would be the year for me to kick up my heels and observe this mid-February celebration in ancient style. I could sacrifice a goat, run around whipping people (so they can be fertile!), then make every eligible bachelor put his name in a bowl so I can pick one to be stuck with me for the next year. Perhaps, just to top the day off, maybe I’ll martyr someone?
Sounds like a lot more fun than wearing black and wasting a day being grumpy! Happy Lupercalia!