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  • Writer's pictureDoug Weiss

Saint Valentine

In a few days we will celebrate a holiday that in its contemporary form dates back to the Victorian era but has its origins in the Roman fertility festival of Lupercalia celebrated at the ides of February. According to legend, young women would place their names in an urn from which eligible bachelors selected a mate with whom they would be paired for the ensuing year. Sometime around the 3rd century A.D. the early Christian church, practicing their own form of cancel culture co-opted the feast day attributing the celebration to Saint Valentine.

There were actually several saints Valentine, but most historians attribute a 3rd century martyr, San Valentino, whose relics may be found today in two churches in Rome and at Whitefriar Street Church in Dublin. At some point in the 5th century the Pope declared the date of the feast should coincide with St. Valentine’s burial on the 14th of February. The transformation from pagan to Christian feast day and finally to the holiday we know today is murky at best but by the middle-ages the date was celebrated as the beginning of the mating season for birds and over time, all creatures including people. History records the first Valentine—as we commonly refer to those notes of affection sent to a loved one or prospective mate, dates to 1415, a poem by the Duke of Orleans written to his wife during his imprisonment in the Tower of London. True romance indeed.

By the 18th century, exchanges of notes and tokens of affection on the date were common but the advent of commercial printing and relatively inexpensive postage a century later drove wide scale adoption, lest we lay blame at the feet of the greeting card, floral, and candy industries. Regardless of one’s age Valentine’s Day has become a seemingly bright spot at the mid-point of dreary winter on this side of the globe; something to look forward to for both aspiring lovers and established couples.

Far be it for me to utter humbug to this holiday, I am no Scrooge. But I do want to dwell a moment on the expectations we attach to such dates and their gradual loss of substance. Before the era of instantaneous gratification, when exchanges of any kind between people took days, even months to convey and handwritten letters were the norm, an expression of affection, much less a protestation of love was a weighty thing. The closest we come in contemporary history might be the letters exchanged between couples during war time. It takes little imagination to sense the intensity of feelings such letters conveyed, and surely a great deal of time and thought went into their writing. Today, the time is, more often than not, a few minutes perusing the rack of greeting cards at the local supermarket to find one that captures just the right sentiment or snark for the occasion.

And please do not get me started on the flowers, candy, and romantic dinners. I have nothing against them, I am as romantic as the next guy, but do these truly take the place of heartfelt expressions of love? What I decry is not the giving of gifts or similar gestures denoting affection but the equation that sets the depth of one’s feelings at the sum of the expense incurred. And to be clear. This goes for the giver and the recipient inasmuch as modern convention is decidedly more one-sided.

I can think of few occasions beyond falling to one's knee in proposal that offer two people a greater opportunity to say what is on their heart with genuine emotion than this--and too often we let copywriters do it for us. Is it too much to ask that regardless of how articulate we may be, we speak what we feel, remind ourselves and our cherished other what they mean to us? And therein is the extent of my quibble with this celebration. Gentlemen, Ladies, I urge you, do not let this day go by without exchanging some words of assurance to one another that your feelings run deeper than manufactured sentiment, that what brought you together still burns in your hearts. Do it, I implore you, for good old Saint Valentine.

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