Sunday, February 8, 2009

Published February 8, 2009
St. George Spectrum & Daily News

Valentine’s Day is Saturday (you’re welcome, all you men who forgot). Being a student , I find myself fascinated with the origins of just about everything, and holidays are no exception. Unlike certain people in my life (*cough* Mom) who would ban the Easter bunny because of its origins as a pagan fertility symbol, I’m not on my quest to do away with holiday traditions whose origins I find personally objectionable. I just want the information so I can feel smarter than your average Valentine.

Looking into the origins of holidays is not unlike cleaning out your fridge. The more you dig, the less sure you are of what you’ve actually discovered. There are several versions of the Valentine story. I’ll let you decide which you prefer.

Version 1: Early Europeans believed that February 14th was the day all birds began to choose their mates. This belief has its origins in Chaucer, who wrote that Europeans believed this. Europeans, embarrassed that they didn’t already know they believed this, began believing it and pretending that they had always believed it. This led to mass expressions of love as a distraction from the fact that nobody actually knew what they really believed.

Version 2: The Pagans celebrated the feast of Lupercalia every February to honor the Roman God Lupercus and thank him for saving their flocks from wolves. Girls names were drawn from a box by the boys in attendance and the couples were considered partners for a year. The Christians renamed this celebration Valentine’s Day and encouraged the pagans to draw the names of saints instead. The pagans weren’t having it, probably because dead saints weren’t very good kissers.

Version 3: Emperor Claudius, annoyed that the men of his empire were less than willing leave their wives and fiancés to fight in his wars, placed a moratorium on marriages and declared all engagements canceled. Saint Valentine secretly performed marriages and was thrown into prison, where he died. It’s unknown whether any children of those secret marriages were named Valentine in his honor, because, well, they were secret.

Version 4: St. Valentine was imprisoned by Claudius for helping Christians. While in prison, he cured a jailer’s daughter of her blindness and/or fell in love with her and wrote her letters signed, “From your Valentine.” Claudius didn’t like the idea of his prisoners performing miracles and/or writing love notes and had Valentine clubbed and/or beheaded on February 14, 269 A.D. It’s unclear whether or not this Valentine is the same as the one in the previous version because they’re both dead and can’t be reached for comment.

Version 5: St. Valentine, upon being rejected by his mistress, cut out his own heart and sent it to her, still beating, as a token of his love. According to some scholars, we give heart-shaped boxes of chocolate and send heart shaped cards in the mail in remembrance of his passion and suffering. I would add mental illness, but I’m sure there’s another holiday set aside for that (it’s called Black Friday).

Whichever version you choose, it’s obvious that this holiday is steeped in tradition and rich with history. When you look into the eyes of your love this Saturday, remember wolves, wars, disembodied heads, and bloody, beating hearts sent through the mail.

If you’re now too disgusted to give that heart-shaped box of chocolates to your sweetheart, do feel free to send it to me via The Spectrum.