Today is Valentine’s Day and aren’t our little, romantic hearts all aflutter?
I am not a fan of Valentine’s Day. Call me unromantic, jaded, or cynical, but to me, Valentine’s Day is a totally bogus “holiday.” That’s why a column by syndicated columnist Tom Purcell that I read a while back still resonates with me.
Purcell wrote that on Valentine’s Day, women “dream of romance, surprise, and having sweet nothings whispered into their ears — and if such things happen, they hope their husbands don’t find out!”
But for men, Purcell said, “Valentine’s Day is a contrived undertaking that makes mandatory the things — flowers, dining out, expensive jewelry — that should be reserved for the times when we do something really stupid and are desperate to make up.” I hear you, Mr. Purcell!
I started to wonder what’s really behind this so-called holiday, so I Googled “Valentine’s Day.” It turns out that Valentine’s Day was originally observed to honor early Christian martyrs. The Catholic Church recognizes at least three different saints named Valentine, all of whom were martyred. Interestingly, no romantic elements are present in the original, early medieval records of these martyrs.
Some historians believe that Valentine’s Day is celebrated in the middle of February to commemorate the anniversary of Saint Valentine’s death. Hmm. Did all three saints named Valentine die in the middle of February? Did it happen in Chicago and was Al Capone invovled?
But others claim that the Catholic Church may have decided to place the Saint Valentine’s feast in the middle of February in an effort to “Christianize” the pagan celebration of Lupercalia, which was celebrated around the middle of February.
Lupercalia was a festival in honor of Lupa, the she-wolf who suckled the infant orphans, Romulus and Remus, the founders of Rome. Lupercalia translates to “Wolf Festival.” During the festival, Roman priests would sacrifice a goat for fertility and a dog for purification. They would then cut the goat’s hide into strips, dip them into the sacrificial blood, and take to the streets where they would gently slap women with the goat hide strips.
Oh wow, it doesn’t get any more romantic than that, does it?Having educated myself on its origin stories, I am more convinced than ever that Valentine’s Day is the epitome of the expression “Hallmark holiday,” a phrase used to describe a holiday that exists solely for commercial purposes.
Valentine’s Day as a romantic holiday was actually concocted during an intense, closed-door brainstorming session at the corporate headquarters of Hallmark Cards, Inc. The Hallmark executives were trying to figure out how to sell more cards during the lull between the Christmas and Easter holidays. One exec suggested creating a romantic holiday celebrating a Roman she-wolf and some martyred saints. “Yeah, that’s the ticket!” all the other execs shouted out.
That, my friends, is the true story about how the Valentine’s Day holiday in America came into being. (And, as Mark Twain said, “Never let the truth get in the way of a good story.”)
Anyway, I hope you all have a happy Valentine’s Day. Unfortunately, mine probably won’t be very happy. When my wife reads this post, there is no doubt that, as Tom Purcell warned, I will have done something really stupid and will be desperate to make up.
Damn you Hallmark Cards, Inc. and your stupid Hallmark holiday.