Valentine’s Day, eh? Geesh, when I think of Valentine’s Days past, I am reminded of two years of working the phones at an international flower delivery service and that day being the day to dread. 12 hours of frantic, last minute orders, angry customers, overworked and stressed florists, and my frayed temper. Honestly, if your entire relationship rests on whether your uninspired choice of a dozen red roses reaches your beloved by closing time, you’ve got a huge fucking problem.
Oh my gods, customers would get so infuriated if anything occurred that was not within their expectations, as if theirs was the only order/relationship/existence of importance. The experience of working at that place greatly opened my eyes to the absolute absurdity of this annual “holiday” and the lengths people will go to to conform to an accepted display of affection on this consumer-driven, banal day of twaddle.
Now, you may be forgiven for thinking that my enmity for the 14th of February actually stems from a lack of romantic attention on this day in the past because you’d be partly right. The only Valentine’s Day present I’ve ever been given was a rustic CD stack from my ex-fiancé. One year, he took me for lunch at Arthur’s Seat which would have been lovely if we had not had a sotto voce argument in the restaurant that I started which consequently left me in tears, which was the regular occurrence in our relationship. He gave me beautiful gifts for Christmas and birthdays, but Valentine’s Day was a fizzer always. I bought him a Valentine’s gift once, I’m sure. I just can’t remember what it was. Obviously, it was so much from the heart that my blinding love blocked out the memory of its physical form.
Subsequent relationships garnered little in the Romance Day of Gift Buying department mainly because my ex-girlfriend was too wasted to notice that it was THAT DAY (or any day, truth be told, bless her cotton socks) and therefore was oblivious to any of my romantic overtures in celebration of the day, and the most recent ex was so busy trying to prove that he didn’t love me, like me, or even particularly want to be around me that I’m sure a failure to acknowledge the Day of “Love” was yet another attempt to wound me with his indifference.
Here I am, talking about Valentines past as if I actually care. I don’t really. I mean, whether or not I get a gift or a card or a gesture remains relatively unimportant in the scheme of things, but in the midst of my crusty cynicism, I do have occasional, private wistful wonderings of what it would be like to have an unexpected romantic surprise from one’s paramour. I also ponder why it’s so important, why this day is so bloody significant to the general unwashed masses.
Being slightly pagan in my world view, and knowing that Valentine’s Day has some basis in pagan history, you’d think I’d know the history of this day. Well, I don’t, but I did some hasty research and found out (woo, internet!).
This day of mass-produced love has its origins in the festival Lupercalia (which I do know a little about as it turns out), which is the ancient Pagan, possibly pre-Roman festival of fertility, or as the right-wing Christian fundamentalists like to call the “festival of sexual licence”. Apparently, celebrating our fertility is a sexual perversion (rcg.org). Go, you crazy Christians!*Lupercalia is actually a ritual involving the twin founders of the city of Rome, Romulus and Remus, who were fished out of the River Tiber and raised by a she-wolf in a cave at the base of Palatine Hill. The cave was dubbed the Lupercal (from the Latin lupus meaning “wolf”), and became the sacred site of future rituals in honour of the twins and the wolves who raised them, represented by Lupa, the she-wolf, and Faunus Lupercus, the alpha-male wolf deity.
The ritual included the sacrifice of a goat and a dog, “the killing of a herd animal and a herd defender presumably echoing the feral days living in the Lupercal” (manygods.org.uk) by two young men representing, I reckon, the twins, who then led the Luperci – a gaggle of priests formed for this particular ritual – down the street, thwacking women, men and children with a bits of dead goat in an attempt to cleanse out the bad juju of the previous year and promote fertility.As is the way with the crazy Pagans** the ritual ends with a big feast (presumably of goat meat) and lots of sex.
This all happens on the 15th of February. The 14th of February is the eve of Lupercalia and was the day of the love lotteries as it was also the day of Juno, the Queen of the Gods and big fan of marriage. According to witchology.com, unmarried women wrote their names on bits of paper which were tossed into a jar and chosen at random by unmarried men. The couples then paired up for the remainder of the festival and could remain together and marry if the partnership worked. How this fits in with the tradition of anonymous and perhaps slightly stalkery love note-giving of today’s Valentine’s Day is perhaps due to the Lupercalia custom blending with folklore beliefs in Britain and France that the 14th was the day the birds started their bonking season, so everybody thought “let’s get bonking too!” and it persisted as the day of love.
But then the early Christians came along and spoiled all the fun. “Now stop this, we can’t have blood sacrifices, that’s just not on. And we certainly can’t have all this rampant spanking, bonking and carrying on, it’s so undignified. I know! There were two martyrs called Valentine killed on this day in different years sometime in the 3rd century by that Emperor Claudius II person, let’s give one of them, oh I don’t know, the second one … let’s give them this day and we can get back to some sort of decorum … oh, the people want to keep frolicking? Oh, all right, just keep your bloody clothes on!”
Or something like that.
And so it evolved, as these things are wont to do, into what it is today. Some Christian groups have distanced themselves from the supposed religious aspect of the day admitting that it really has nothing to do with a couple of dead saints, and claiming that it is against their God to celebrate it.
But really, in my humble opinion? It’s a day that celebrates love. Yes, it’s consumerised (just made up a word there) to buggery, yes it causes more stress in relationships than it should, yes it may have lost its true meaning somewhere in the works, but so what? We celebrate birthdays, we celebrate our national holidays, we celebrate Christmas and Easter (both with their roots in Paganism), why not celebrate a day of love? Forget the sappy bullshit that accompanies it, Valentine’s Day is a great day to remember, reflect, and bask in the warm-fuzzy glow of romantic love or platonic love or familial love or any kind of love because love is pretty awesome. Hey! It looks like I care after all.
So, Happy Valentine’s Day to all my readers and their loved ones. Go have some chocolate covered candy hearts.
*No disrespect to sane Christians anywhere.
**No disrespect to sane Pagans anywhere.