Colour me unromantic, but I’ve never been one to get into a tizzy for Valentine’s Day, relationship or none. In fact I’m not quite sure where the whole myth popped up from. Doing a bit of research, it seems that nobody really knows much about what a St. Valentine might have done, or might not of done, but it certainly didn’t seem to have too much to do with romancing. There were several martyrs who bore the name, and nobody in the early church seemed to know much about them, including, it seems, the Pope who finally canonized them. He claimed that while their names were known to man, their deeds would remain known only to God. Opaque, at best.
Valentine’s story was fleshed out more in the 14th Century (trust those renaissance folks to come up with a good yarn), where it turns out he was imprisoned by Emperor Claudius. Claudius was quite fond of the saint until the preacher tried to convert the good ruler, at which point Claudius ordered Valentine removed from the realm of the living. When pummelings with clubs and stones didn’t seem to do the trick, the shortly-to-be-martyr was dragged out to a city gate and beheaded. Romantic to the last.
Early sources linking St. Valentine’s Day with lovers is probably more to do with the date than anything about the saint passé. Typically, French courtiers seemed to play a part in the romanticization of the date, with the stakes driven further home by good Bill Shakespeare as the seventeenth century clocked over, during a lament by Hamlet’s hapless love-interest Ophelia. Sources suggest the event has its roots in an ancient pagan tradition held in mid-February dating back to the Romans (who in turn poached it from the Greeks) revolving around sexuality and fertility (those ancients really did like their fertility festivals). In fact the modern habit of card-giving seems to have really taken off in the mid-eighteen-hundreds when a US cardmaker began mass-producing embossed Valentines cards. So really, it’s the original sales-driven holiday. Score one for consumerism. Again.
(That’d make it Consumerism, 8,716,342: Good Taste and Careful Thought: 4).
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t actually dislike Valentine’s Day. At least, not nearly as much as I dislike Christmas. I’m all up for people celebrating their relationships. And no, this isn’t some bitter single’s rant. In fact, quite the contrary- being single on Valentine’s Day is something of a relief, taking away all that pressure to create, to perform, or simply to spend. I guess I just enjoy bringing in a healthy dose of hard cold reality into all the fuss and frills of our unquestioned modern world as it ploughs over the top of us with all the dignity of a mail-truck full of Hallmark cards.
So for all you lovers out there, happy luvin’, and for all the rest, have a great weekend. I’m going to a chilli fair, a farewell barbecue and a wine festival. What about you?
Photo: A dew-spotted rose unfurling in the early morning mist in northern Thailand. Selective desaturation in Lightroom used to break out the colour.