Look, I’m all in favor of Romance, but here’s the drag about Valentine’s day – it’s too exclusive, and not in the cool way of some trendy Parisian boîte, but in the cliquish way of high-schoolers, meaning it excludes all the lovely people out there who, bursting with love, just don’t have an outlet. For them, Valentine’s Day is cruel and inhumane. And, just as wickedly, it trivializes love in general – all the myriad forms of love that the human soul envelopes.
Now, let it be known that Valentine’s Day has a very sketchy history. There are the apocryphal stories of a couple of Christian martyrs, back in the day, named Valentinus. But the most obvious to have lent his name was a priest who was martyred in 269 AD because he took it upon himself to marry soldiers, against Roman law, thinking it would keep them chaste while sacrificing life and limb for the Empire. I would be surprised if that concept actually worked. And it doesn’t exactly read romance anyhow, does it? At least not for the wives left in the lurch when their spouses died. At any rate, apparently February 14th was the day of this Valentine’s burial. (His skull is still entombed and floral-wreathed, in a basilica in Italy. Now that is romantic, in a creepy sort of way.)
There is also much fictitious “coupling” around the concept of love and Valentine’s Day, the most amusing and salacious of which links Valentine’s day with the ancient Roman ritual Lupercalia, an actual coupling and fertility rite celebrated on the 15th of February. (Lupercus was the Roman equivalent of the Greek God Pan.) Abolished in 492 by Pope Gelasius, this pagan festival was then converted into a purification ritual involving the Virgin Mary. (There is a fine example of revisionist history if there ever was one.) At any rate, if there were a true connection, Lupercalia certainly got sterilized from an orgiastic enterprise (including flagellation of (willing?) women) into the latter day dating game we know today. Just a bit of willful confusion here, through the centuries, about the linkage of lust, romance, and love.
Purportedly Chaucer was the one responsible for popularizing Valentine’s Day, for literarily launching it as a celebration for lovers, and from there the trend blossomed. The first recorded association of Valentine’s Day with romantic love is in Chaucer’s Parlement of Foules (1382). (Foules is not to be mistaken with Fools, although one might leap to that assumption, but is in fact Old English for fowls.)
“For this was on St. Valentine’s Day, when every bird cometh there to choose his mate…”
Although this poem was written to honor the first anniversary of the engagement of King Richard II of England to Anne of Bohemia, the date on the marriage treaty was May 2, 1381. It is possible Chaucer was referring to another St. Valentine, an early bishop of Genoa whose feast day was May 3. But somehow readers through the years lumped Chaucer’s saint into the same crypt and on the same date as the Roman martyr, even though chilly mid-February is not a typically randy time for English foules.
In Slovenia, Saint Valentine, or Zdravko, was one of the saints of spring, the saint of good health and the patron of beekeepers and pilgrims. An old proverb says that “Saint Valentine brings the keys of roots.” And it is on the 14th of February that Slovenians celebrate the commencement of the new year’s work in the vineyards and fields. Well now, let’s see: spring, new life, planting fields… fertility? Hmmm; we get back to that Lupercalia business.
But on a deeper note, consider the very existence of the role of patron of beekeepers and pilgrims – how absolutely lovely and how desperately we need him now; or perhaps we could create a female Zdravko? Because she would be the natural fit to oversee the ongoing humming of the bees, and the safety of our modern pilgrims – the immigrants. Two highly endangered life forms. Maybe this is a better use of Valentine’s day – as a celebration of the vital work done by bees, and an honoring of those whose homeland has rejected them and who bravely seek a new land.
Back to my beef with Valentine’s day, aside from the fact that it’s so precious – it simply is too limiting. Not the fault (or is it?) of millions of lovers who happily spend fortunes on overpriced candies and dinners, but due rather to a general lack of imagination in the culture at large. So here is what I propose: A three-day holiday with a day dedicated to each of the following:
1) Romantic Love
2) Carnal Love
3) Agape (or Love of the World)
I have said it before and I’ll say it again, what the world needs now is Love, sweet Love. I know, someone else said that. But they meant something quite different. I literally mean that the world itself needs the love which we all have bottled up inside of us. That love for life, for our lovely planet, for all our fellow creatures and all the darling flora on it. For the delightfully changing heavens above, for all the forces of nature that fuel and propel life.
Now we already know what the 14th will look like, and one could see it as a prelude to the 15th (reviving Lupercalia, sans whips unless asked for) which would be a sort of righteous culmination, cleansing, and upheaving of all the saccharinity of the 14th. And then we’d have the 16th as a day of liberation, with all that foolishness gotten out of the way on the preceding two days. The 16th would be a day of jubilation and acts of unadulterated, unfettered kindness and affection.
But wait a second, shouldn’t that third day just extend for ALL the 362 days left in the year?
Let’s see if we can make that happen. It make take a few generations, but I for one, on the 16th, will be exceptionally, profoundly exhibitionist in my love for all and sundry. If you’re lucky, you’ll cross my path.