Ah, Valentine’s Day, the time that annually awakens two camps as simmering and opinionated as Romeo and Juliet’s feuding families. It comes in flashes, this battle between the Valentine’s Day enthusiasts and their anti-Valentine’s Day counterparts. Posters proclaiming the location and time of Single’s Awareness Day events are pegged daringly next to walls dripping in pink and red. On the Internet people slash at gift ideas, over lattes they parry against the arguments of year-round romantics.
To buy chocolates or not buy chocolates—that is the modern question.
In the right corner
Weighing in at about 196 million roses we have the designated (American) romantics. Of course, this group aims to present cards, candy and dinner before plucking flowers.
Ready to tap in are their British counterparts who are willing to bring in the flowers far sooner (right after cards). While they’re warming up their card thrusting gestures, their great-great-great-great-grandfathers are sitting in the audience picking out generic poetry lines from their contemporary V-Day assist, a 1797 book called The Young Man’s Valentine Writer.
A Recycled Roman Pagan Festival?
Legend has it these folks are inspired to step into the love arena each year by a holiday grown from an ancient Roman festival called Lupercalia. Celebrated on February 13-15, it may have been a festival to honour the she-wolf that suckled Romulus and Remus, the founders of Rome. Of course, little is known about Lupercalia aside from the widely shared fact that men would strike women with dog or goat-skin thongs—freshly prepared for the occasion—to render them fertile.
An author from 1756 named Alban Butler claimed that there was also a practice of the adults placing their names in jars and drawing to make pairs for the year (or the festival).
There are no solid connections between this festival and the holiday we celebrate today however, aside from the shared date—so most people should leave their animal whips at home.
A saint on a marriage rampage?
Right alongside the idea that Valentine’s Day arose from Lupercalia is the claim that three saints—all named (can you guess?) Saint Valentine—may have won the day.
The one that nabs this claim most frequently is Valentine of Rome, who was executed for disobeying a ban on marrying Roman soldiers. According to the stories, a Roman emperor named Claudius II decided that married soldiers were demoralized and homesick wimps so he wanted all his soldiers single. St. Valentine, of course, the hero against this pagan barbarian, ignored the ban and continued to marry people.
He was imprisoned and, according to later versions of the legend, fell in love with the warden’s daughter, with whom he exchanged the first ever letter marked From Your Valentine on the day of his execution.
Keep in mind—while you wonder whether signing your V-day card is similar to signing your will—contemporary records of St. Valentine were destroyed during the Diocletianic Persecution in the 4th century. Everything we hear today came from people speculating a century or two later. Even the Roman Catholic Church acknowledges that little is known about this man and removed his name from the general Roman Calendar of Saints in 1969 (however he’s still officially a saint).
In the left corner
In this corner we have the people who glance at business magazines as the holiday approaches. The following lines might make you wonder whether you should replace your Valentine’s card with a capitalist-overload-imminent protest card.
“Analysis of Google searches in February 2012 alerted retailers to a chilling development: thrift.” – Business Life
“Why it’s a tradition: Unlike roses and chocolate, lingerie is basically a gift for the guy giving it. Victoria’s Secret holds big sales around the holiday each year as an added incentive.” – Business Insider
“Show her how much you care with customized M&Ms” – Business Inside
The nasty business of love
All these dinners, roses, candies and cards cost millions of dollars and many businesses are itching to cash in on this gift gluttony. One way is to take advantage of workers, while another is to take advantage of customers.
Sucks to be single
You can also find almost all the single people in this corner. Valentine’s day is about LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE and we’re not talking friendship love (at the adult level) we’re talking sexy, flirty, I want you love.
How much would that suck to be at home or work being bombarded with the knowledge that you are alone—and, according to society, unhappy?
There are plenty of people who are content with being single, but when V-day circles around they are hammered for days with messages saying “oh, don’t have a partner? There is no one to give you things, no one to think about you today, no one to spoil you.”
Some people get lost in the dream of Valentine’s Day while some are just trying to dodge the nightmare.
Why limit buying flowers to one day a year? Why stop thinking of little love acts the rest of the year?
I might be able to say this because J and I have only been in a relationship for mm, something like two years, but honestly our V-day was nothing special simply because we’re already in the deep end.
We travelled to Brighton—booya LGBTQ+ capital of the UK—where I did some journalism work then set aside my notes for some couple fun.
We toured the free historical sites hand-in-hand, gawked at artwork and scoured a second-hand book shop in the town’s famous Lanes area (£9 for three books score!). As with how we buried our noses in different sections at the book shop, we bounced through our different interests on a shared selection of moments.
I let J choose the places to eat and shop and J patiently followed my stop-go photo touring pattern and even joined in!
We tried some handmade fudge and ate at a local restaurant. We snuggled on the Wheel of Excellence (beachside ferris wheel) and finished the night with a wander across the Brighton Pier.
In the end I didn’t buy J flowers yesterday, but the tulips I’d bought last week were still looking lovely when we left.
I hope you all spent Valentine’s Day having fun, but don’t let the good times be limited to designated days of the year!