Valentine’s Day Extravaganza Part 1 – History

Valentine’s day is upon us, a day that sees love-struck men spending their hard earned scratch on expensive dinners, exotic flowers, imported chocolates, mall store jewelry and countless other services, trinkets and gewgaws in an attempt to barter with their significant other for sexual favors in a process that sounds, on paper, a lot like prostitution. Fear not! There is a big difference between this festive holiday and solicitation, namely that even after laying down (*PUN!*) three weeks pay on dinner, a few dozen roses and a tennis bracelet from Zales, you still have no guarantee that you will get any, let alone good, sex. Prostitutes, on the other hand, are trained professionals who will undoubtedly fulfill any contractual obligations to the best of their abilities both quickly and efficiently and without outraged indignation at not getting a Pawsome Panda™ Build-a-Bear® afterward.

Unlike Sweetest Day which was invented only recently as a way to bring people closer together, especially Hallmark executives and their stockbrokers, St. Valentine’s Day appears to have an ancient, darker and dubious history. One story of this ‘Holiday for Lovers’ is that it was named for a martyr who was caught illegally marrying Christians, certainly a punishable offense, and was subsequently beaten severely with clubs, mercilessly stoned and the remaining bloody, broken and gore dripping meat sack was finally beheaded. This was a clear case of a punishment not only unfitting of the crime but taken to such an extreme level you have to wonder why it’s not appeared in a Bruce Willis movie, lame Chuck Norris fact or on a report from the investigations into Bush’s record.

Another quaint and vaguely nauseating theory describes yet another saint who shared the dreaded name and was apparently the first proponent of Emo. The story explains that he became so depressed and heartbroken after being turned down by his mistress, (most likely because she grew tired of his self-deprecating free-verse and crappy haircut) that he decided to stab himself in the chest, rip out his own heart and mail her the still-beating organ. Even though the postal codes were much more lax back then, this doesn’t sound very likely due to the challenge of sealing a box and carrying it to the post office while not possessing a working heart. This tale is explained as the likely origin of why we now send heart shaped cards, although my bullshit alert does ping a bit whenever I think about it. If only the Emo kids of our more modern age were as dedicated as this incarnation of Saint Valentine we wouldn’t see so many roving bands of kids, their pale skin reflecting a multitude of facial piercings, the rasping clink of zippers coming from pants that look as if they were created by a late 60’s joint venture between the Marquis de Sade and M.C. Hammer. On further reflection I see now how easily some ancient friend of his could have nipped this whole thing in the bud. If someone had just given this guy some black lipstick and a kick in the pants towards to the nearest Pierce-a-torium, we might still be celebrating Lupercalia, an ancient fertility ritual in which topless and blood smeared women in goatskins dance around laughing while guys whip other lasses with strips of raw meat. Add a pony keg and a monkey in a pair of overalls and you’ve got what sounds like a great way to spend a Saturday afternoon.

Finally, we use Occam’s Razor to slice through this chaff and look at the theory which states that nowhere in literature was Saint Valentine’s day a celebration for lovers until it was written as such by Geoffrey Chaucer, a man who is respected to this day as the father of modern, vernacular English in the same way that Robert Williams, the creator of Ebonics, wishes, without even the slimmest sliver of hope, that he too will someday be respected. What I like about this story, even though it doesn’t contain zombie postage lickers, is that we have plenty of historical record and literature from before and after Chaucer’s time and there was no link to Saint Valentine and romantic love before Chaucer, yet there was a celebrated link after. The easiest explanation is that he was responsible for the connection. It’s funny, but I fail to see how celebrating the maimed, beaten corpse of a religious hero or the selfish act of suicide during an extreme tantrum can be considered as inspirations for commemorating your love for a member of the opposite sex. I also can’t see how a pagan celebration to promote fertility which is rife with sacrifices, blood, and symbolic abuse can stir the heart much either, although I’ll admit that the prospect of beating blood soaked Hooters waitresses with a Slim Jim does stir something in me. The way I picture it, Geoff was sitting at the local pub writing a poem and sipping a sherry when the head of the local ‘Ye Newe Carde Shoppe’ came over with a full mug of ale and a wearing greasy smile: (translated from Old English)

“Oi! Geoff! I’m taking a beating on these new Valentine cards. For some reason, people don’t want to buy cards in the shape of bleeding, disembodied offal. I’m also starting to realize that marketing cards for men to give to ladies who can’t stand the sight of ’em so’s they can threaten suicide if they don’t get a toss may not top my list of greatest ideas. How about you use your famous poet powers to add life to this rancid campaign and I’ll kick you in on the take?”

Chaucer sips the ale, politely daubing the foam from his lips with a silk hanky held a soft, well manicured hand.

“Here’s what you do”, he relies, his eyes gleaming in the soft candlelight, “Make the card look less like a heart and more like…”, he glaces around quickly and points over to the waitress who’s bent over at the waist, picking up a coin from the floor, “Like that. Make the heart look like Selma’s fine, fine arse over there. Then, write something nice that doesn’t include self mutilation and threats. Finally, and this is the good bit, market it to people who actually have even the slightest chance at getting a poke so they develop a subliminal cue that says buying your cards will eventually lead to sex.”

“That is bloody genius!”

“I get 10% cut off the top and first rights to publish a fictional account of fabricated traditions while being vague enough to keep scholars guessing at my true motivations for centuries.”

Baron Hallmark rises to his feet, one hand twisting his moustache, the other held out in front of him, a huge grin spread across his face.

“Done and done you devious bastard.”

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