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An Ode to St. Valentine

Valentine’s Day has always been a really weird day at my house.   This Valentine’s Day began with my kids reminding me for the umteen-millionth  time how Valentine’s Day is the “stupidest, most worthless day EVERRRRR…”.  On their return home, I got another earful from my son about how he was trying to forget it was Valentine’s Day but he “got hit in the face with, like, fourty-five shiny, freakin’  heart-shaped balloons” as he tried to pass some lucky recipient in the school hallway.

Sigh.

Poor St. Valentine.   I doubt he envisioned shiny heart- shaped balloons as a commemoration of his martyrdom.  Torture and decapitation = heart-shaped balloons.  Struggling with that one, myself.  And what about the cherub, the symbol of the romantic love he championed?  Personally, I’m still trying to get past the little flying naked baby as an appropriate symbol for anything but, say, baby diapers.  Naked flying babies could be dangerous. after all.  (Come to think of it, is that where the chocolate comes in?  The whole ritual smacks of those really bad baby shower activities where you have to taste-test a candy-bar out of a diaper.   Ewwww….  )  Let’s see.  St.Valentine + Romantic Love = Naked Flying Baby Boy.   Hmmmm…   Let’s rephrase that.  Esteemed Church Official/Saint+Romantic Love = Naked Flying Baby Boy.  That is wrong on soooo many levels.

Ok, so maybe we should look at the WHOLE history of the Valentine’s Day mystery… as much as one can figure out the original ingredients of a really good Pagan/Christian Stew that ‘s  been left to simmer a long, looong time, topped with a healthy dollop of commercialism.  (My endless thanks to good ol’ Wikipedia.)

It seems that there were several saints by the name of Valentine.  None of them really had anything to do with Romantic Love at all, but through the ages, it seems that the Saint Valentine responsible for all this muss and fuss was able to be narrowed down a bit.    This particular St. Valentine everyone seemed to know something about had been persecuted as a Christian by Roman Emperor Claudius II.  The story goes that while imprisoning and torturing Valentine, Claudius kindly paid him a visit.  The two had a nice long conversation, and it seems Claudius liked Valentine enough to try to persuade him to convert to Roman Paganism.  As any good martyr would do, Valentine refused and gallantly tried to convert the great Claudius to Christianity, which got him more torture and a big fat ugly death sentence.  Still, being a stoic, good martyr as martyrs go, Valentine cured Claudius’ daughter of  her blindness before he was horrendously murdered.  The End?

Welllll….. the “Romantic Legend Board” voted: Two Thumbs Down – Not Romantic Enough. Thus,  the “Romantic Legend” of St. Valentine was born.  Further embellishments on the legend report Valentine and Claudius’ daughter were deeply in love, and Valentine supposedly sent her a letter declaring his love for her which was delivered as he was on his way to being beaten,  stoned, and decapitated. That’s the original Valentine, folks. Makes you want one, doesn’t it?  (No wonder guys break up with chicks the day before Valentine’s Day… who wants to say they’ve lost their head over their beloved? ) Of course, every embellishment has its variation.  (FYI, according to Wikipedia, that version was  supplied, coincidentally and with no connection to historical fact, by American Greetings to History.com.)

The second Romantic Legend of St. Valentine goes something along the lines of this:

Valentine was a priest who refused to abide by a previously unchallenged law dictated by none other than Claudius, which ordered all young men to remain single.   Apparently, Claudius was trying to build his army, and he figured out that married men didn’t make good soldiers.   According to Wikipedia, “The priest Valentine, however, secretly performed marriage ceremonies for young men.   When Claudius found out about this, he had Valentine arrested and thrown in jail.”  (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Valentine%27s_Day).  Their words.  Haven’t researched that further.   Doesn’t matter.  Marriage is marriage as far as I’m concerned.  It’s just that church officialcherub thing.

Moving on,  let’s switch from the Religious to the Commercial Quagmire, compliments of none other than the endlessly romantic Geoffrey Chaucer (1342/43-1400).  According to history, the first official connection St. Valentine really had to Romantic Love was through Chaucer’s The Parliament of Fowles. In this literary work, Chaucer portrays Valentine as the patron the of marriage of Richard II and Anne of Bohemia, and further depicts all the imagery the modern Valentine’s Day evokes:  Love-Birds, Voluptuous Blossoms of Spring, Venus, and – hold on, folks, CUPID.  And Hello, Hallmark!  Chaucer officially started the tradition of composing Love Poems on Valentine’s Day.  (Thanks, Geoffrey.  Really.)

FYI, in 1969 (ahem!),  the February 14th  feast day of St. Valentine was actually removed from the Roman Catholic Calendar of Saints because they said they knew nothing of the man, except that he (or one of the many) was buried on that day on the Via Flaminia. ( Odd, since the God Cupid (cherub=naked flying boy) was of Roman origin.  So was the ancient Roman holiday Lupercalia, which was originally observed February 13 – 15 as an archaic rite connected to fertility.  You think they’d want a piece of that.)  But hey, the Churches of England and Elsewhere kept the celebration alive. (How decent of them.)  Of course, by the early 1900’s, the greeting card industry had gone ballistic, ironically promoting the very paganism that sent St. Valentine to his death.  Add confectioners and jewelers and florists to Chaucer’s Happy Wagon.  No stopping that train in 1969.

So, all of this, this, ENORMOUSLY DRAMA-LADEN DAY is the work of early screenwriters, folks.  Early Hollywood.  Trust me – they’re laughing at us all the way to the bank.    Ahhh, but like all the other suckers out there,  I love Hollywood.  I always will.  It keeps us entertained, at the very least.  Good, bad, gorgeous and freakin’ 45-shiny-balloon-UGLY, any story that features romance at the heart of the story line (or the punch line, hard to tell sometimes), no matter what happens on this ultra-weird day, I remain the mom who will always tell her kids they are her very own Valentines, year after year after year.

Posted in holidays and musings and Valentine's Day by danica on March 5th, 2011 at 5:50 PM.

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