Friday, February 14, 2014

Meh - Another Valentine's Day? Take Heart

Hey you Spartan heart-breaker: I'm taking the 'meh' out of anti-Valentine's Day memes.

I'm mostly a traditionalist, which I guess is synonymous with being a slave to human ritual. But for the record, my dear husband of 34 years is my one and only Valentine. We will share a romantic candle-lit steak dinner followed by some decadent chocolate dessert, and some romance.

I'm one of the lucky ones, and I know it – especially based on all the anti-Valentine's Day memes I see posting across my social network.

For those suffering through another Valentine's Day, I only wish I'd written this sooner.

This, my friends, is for you:

Turns out you don't have to feel any moral or historical obligation to have a loved on on this particular day, or shop for a heart-shaped anything to bestow upon anyone.

Forget the hearts and flowers, the pricey chocolates. There is no verifiable connection to the vague historical saint named Valentine and our obsession with this emotionally draining Hallmark holiday.

No Cupid connection. No candle-lit dinner for two required. 

I've done the research.

According to scholars who kick this stuff around in their academic circles, it all points back to the ancient Roman cleansing and purification ritual of 
Februalia (from which the Romans named the month of February).

And that devolved into another pagan ritual, 
Lupercalia (derived from the Greek word for "wolf"), a three-day fest held around the ides of February, meant to drive away evil spirits and encourage health and fertility – mostly by bathing, and abusing their women into submission.

There's more.
Pan, the naked flute-playing god of shepherds.

Pan, the naked flute-playing god of shepherds who wore nothing but goatskins for skivvies, is a key figure here. The highlights reel would include the sacrifice of a goat and a dog, followed by the preparation and burning of salt mealcakes by the Vestal Virgins – aka nun-like women who were excused from marriage and childbearing in exchange for tending the Roman perpetual hearth fires.

Looks like it was Victorian-era pranksters who may deserve credit for the idea of delivering "valentines" – on Feb. 13, according to this BBC history lesson, those in the village known to be unlucky in love became targets of England's bully class. These twisted jokesters would leave a huge present on their target's doorstep who, upon finding the anonymous gift, would tear through several layers of wrapping only to discover a nasty-gram of lovelorn mockery scribbled on paper.

Around the same time, the historic Norfolk legend of Jack Valentine emerged.

Side note: I'm actually shocked this one hasn't been turned into a holiday-themed horror movie, not unlike the "Halloween" series, featuring masked murdered Michael Myers.
Be somebody else's guest, Lumiere.

In the Disney version, Jack Valentine is an AC/DC chap who can morph into Old Father Valentine or Old Mother Valentine at will, knocking on doors and leaving gifts for good kids. It could feasibly involve a talking candelabra or dwarves in tights – I'll leave that to the animators.

However, in the Rob Zombie version, Jack's alter-ego, Snatch Valentine, knocks on doors of children anticipating happy Jack, and leaves a present with a string attached so that when said kid opens the door and reaches for the gift, Snatch yanks on the string and the gift is pulled away from the kid's grasp.

That ritual is repeated, several times, like a cruel knock-knock joke. Kids are warned not to follow the runaway package "or else" and so the wicked game continues until, finally, Snatch stops yanking the string and the traumatized child can finally get his hands on the elusive gift which, by this time, has triggered PTSD in said kid and, likely, has diminished future expectations of gift-associated holidays, including Christmas and birthdays.

So as not to be a complete Hallmark holiday heart-breaker, there is one shred of dignity in the legend of St. Valentine's Day.

In one historical account that has survived the rigors of distilling fact from fiction, there was a particular Valentine (among many historical Roman priests named Valentine) known for two things: performing weddings for soldiers who were otherwise forbidden from marrying; and spreading Christian ideals of faith and love to those persecuted during the Roman Empire.
The man, they myth, the legend: St. Valentine.

After allegedly healing the blind daughter of Asterius, he was martyred, tossed in prison and eventually beheaded on Feb. 14, 280 AD. He left a note prior to his execution, signed, "Your Valentine."

While I realize this debunkery of Valentine's Day may not help you all that much, the take away is that love is not just important to the human condition, it is the human condition.

It's not as tangible as a heart-shaped box of chocolates.

Rather, it's a mindset. An action word. A gift with no strings attached. A ritual with untraceable roots that go all the way back to the heart itself – by design the thing that keeps us alive. Strong yet fragile; vital as it is vulnerable. 

Today, let your human heart feel what it feels. Set your mind on love. Take action – whether that means buying your beloved a card at CVS, or committing a random act of love in some thoughtful, charitable, unconditional way for someone else who needs it.