V-day: Eros Nemesis or Saviour?

It is again that day that most people in the US either love or hate — Valentine’s Day.  For those of you that love it, whether you’re with your life-mate or not, it’s a time of celebration for that most wonderful emotion, love.  It’s a celebration of the joys of friendship, the camaraderie of the workplace, and the affections of family.  For those of you who hate it the day is filled with  bitterness over a personal situation or frustration with yet another materialistic, hypocritical holiday.

For myself I do get a bit frustrated when the V-day candies come out right after New Year’s (only to be swamped by Easter chocolates a few weeks later), but I can’t help but love this little holiday.  I like the excuse to give people stuff, or make people stuff.  I like being able to share my joy, to have an excuse to celebrate with others.  Be that as it may, it’s not the case for many people, who find the whole idea offensive.  So, back to the root of the problem – how did this whole holiday get started anyway?  And how the heck did Cupid, a pagan god of love who typically made people fall for one another to thier detriment, come to be taken as its symbol?

So, a little about the saint first.  Saint Valentine, who at one time had a feast day on February 14 (though many Roman Catholics no longer celebrate this day), was a saint that nobody ever recorded anything about.  In fact, the feast day could’ve referred to more than one saint.  Various saints with the name ‘valentine’ also exist in the orthodox church.  So basically, I have no idea how this guy got sainted and neither does anyone else, which was probably part of the reason the Catholics stopped feasting him.   Also, there ended up being a number of stories made up about him later, but none involved romantic love.

Enter the mid/late Middle Ages and the popularity of courtly love.   Chaucer makes up a new story implying ancient traditions associating this popular topic with the saint.  Some also think that early Christians associated the saint’s feast day with Lupercalia (a Roman celebration of fertility, NOT love) and the season of Zeus and Hera’s marriage (lots of great love there.  really).  So basically Valentine’s day began to be associated with courtly love (I guess that’s romantic?) and the Greco-Roman tradition.  Actual cards and tokens were exchanged at this time to express affection and show devotion.  Still, kinda hard to see where Cupid comes in at all.  In the 1840s (after the Catholics had abandoned the saint), Valentine’s day was reintroduced as  a holiday.  Then people start the marketing.  Go capitalism!  One of the first ladies to start marketing was the daughter of a stationary store owner here in Massachusetts.  Pretty classy stuff.

Despite all that, and the continual reuse of the holiday for various manipulative purposes, I enjoy it.  It reminds me of the things I’ve forgotten, and helps me to take time for love, which could always use a little more time.   Considering the countless similar variations of the day that exist around the world, it’s probably something we need.


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