Happy V.D.!Excerpted from Floozy & Other Stories.
By Stephen B. Bagley
I like several holidays. Christmas and Thanksgiving, of course, and who doesn’t love the wild, passionate excitement of Groundhog Day, but I confess I don’t much care for Valentine’s Day. Or, as I like to call it, Passover.
I hope you have a nice day with your loved one, perhaps going to an expensive restaurant and gazing soulfully into each other’s eyes and then you glance out the window at the lovely moonlit night and exclaim, “Hey! What is that guy doing to my car?” Just so you know, I’m letting the air out of your tires, thus ensuring you a night to remember. I hope you brought a jack.
No, no, no, I won’t let the air out of your tires. I’m happy you’re happy with your lovey dovey. I’m sorry someone (but not me) texted your ex-boyfriends/girlfriends that you want to see them immediately to rekindle your romance and they should bring whipped cream, handcuffs, two nuns, and a goat.
Not that I’m bitter that you’re with a loved one while I am alone, of course. I wish you much happiness and joy and perhaps a plague or two. Nothing serious, mind you. Just an inflamed pimple or a hacking cough or say, leprosy.
That might seem harsh, but Valentine’s Day has a harsh history that I will now share with you. I did almost no research on this, but a few facts did creep in despite my best efforts.
The Catholic Church recognizes at least three different martyred saints named Valentine or Valentinus. All three died in terrible agony, thus giving rise to their remembrance with little candy hearts, expensive flowers, and boxes of cheap chocolate. That might seem odd, but remember most people mark Easter by eating chocolate bunnies and hiding hard-boiled eggs. So it does follow the same bizarre theme.
The most commonly held legend says that Valentine was a priest in Rome during the third century. When Emperor “Killjoy” Claudius II decided single men made better soldiers than those with wives and families, he outlawed marriage for young men. Valentine defied Claudius and continued to perform marriages for young lovers in secret. When Valentine’s marriages were discovered, Claudius had Valentine thrown in prison.
Supposedly, Valentine actually sent the first ‘valentine’ greeting himself. While in prison, Valentine fell in love with his jailor’s daughter. (Why the daughter was visiting men in prison, the legend doesn’t say.) Before his death, he wrote her a letter, which he signed “From your Valentine.” He also healed her blindness through his faith. (Her first words upon regaining her sight were, “Who are you? And why am I in this terrible place? Eek! Are those rats?”)
For Valentine’s good works, Claudius had him beaten, tortured with hot irons, beaten some more, more torture, another beating because you can’t have too much beating, and then finally beheaded. They beat him after the beheading, too, but all the fun seemed to have gone out of it.
Some historians say Valentine’s Day is celebrated in the middle of February to mark the anniversary of Valentine’s death and/or burial. Others claim the Christian church decided to celebrate Valentine’s feast day in the middle of February to ‘christianize’ celebrations of the pagan Lupercalia festival. Still other historians don’t care and have gone out for a bite to eat.
We do know that, in ancient Rome, February was the official beginning of spring and a time for purification. Houses were cleansed by sweeping them out and then sprinkling salt and wheat throughout their rooms. (This was centuries before the invention of Lysol and those nifty Swiffer mops.) Lupercalia, which began on February 15, was a fertility festival dedicated to Faunus (the god of agriculture) and Romulus and “Uncle” Remus (founders of Rome as well as the Romulian Empire that bedeviled Captain Kirk so much).
To begin the festival, the Luperci priests would gather at the sacred cave where the infants Romulus and Remus were believed to have been raised by a she-wolf or lupa. No, seriously, that’s what they believed. The priests would then sacrifice a goat (for fertility) and a dog (for purification) and then several lawyers (for fun).
The boys of Rome then sliced the goat’s hide into strips, dipped them in the sacrificial blood, and took to the streets, gently slapping both women and fields of crops with the goat hide strips. Supposedly, Roman women enjoyed being touched with the strips because it was believed the strips would make them more fertile. I don’t know what would happen if you slapped a modern woman with a goat hide strip dipped in blood, but it wouldn’t be pretty.
Later in the day, all the young women in the city would place their names in a big urn. The city’s bachelors would each choose a name out of the urn and become paired for the year with his chosen woman. These matches often ended in marriage and sometimes bloodshed and feuds. This is quite similar to the state lotteries of today or winning big in Vegas.
Pope Gelasius declared February 14 as St. Valentine’s Day around 498 A.D. The Roman ‘lottery’ system was condemned as un-Christian and outlawed. The Church tried to replace it with a system where the young men pulled out the name of a saint and then would spend a year trying to be like the saint, but for some reason, the public wasn’t as interested in that as you might suppose.
No one really knows where the tradition of sending greetings to your loved ones on Valentine’s Day started. The oldest known valentine still in existence today was a poem written by Charles, Duke of Orleans, to his wife while he was imprisoned in the Tower of London. The greeting, written in 1415, is almost unreadable but most scholars think it goes: “Roses are red, Violets are blue, The Tower is stinky, I have the flu” or something not even close to that.
In the 17th century, Valentine’s Day began to be popularly celebrated in Great Britain. (So it’s really the fault of those dang English.) By the middle of the eighteenth century, friends, lovers, and chimney sweeps commonly exchanged small items of affection or handwritten notes. By the end of the century, printed cards began to replace written letters, and decreasing postage rates helped spur the popularity. (Postage rates weren’t much of a problem for the royal family due to their tendency to date within the family. Many times they could walk across the room and hand their Valentines to their cousins.) Americans probably began exchanging hand-made valentines in the early 1700s. In the 1840s, Esther A. Howland started selling the first mass-produced valentines in America. Hallmark maintains a shrine for her with a perpetual chocolate fountain.
The Greeting Card Association says an estimated one billion valentine cards are sent each year, making Valentine’s Day the second largest card-sending holiday of the year. (An estimated 2.6 billion cards are sent for Christmas.) Valentine’s Day is celebrated in the United States, Canada, Mexico, the United Kingdom, France, and Australia. The rest of the world is free, free, free of it.
By the way, have you noticed that the best Valentine’s Day cards are always sold by the time you go to the greeting card store? Apparently the pretty cards are sold by the end of November, and the funny ones by the end of December. When I get there, the only selection left is a few tattered cards that say things like, “Stinky the Skunk thinks you’re grand! Stinky the Skunk wants to hold your hand!” Your loved one will forgive you only once for a card such as that. After that, if you can’t find a good card, it’s better to fake a coma the entire month of February.
Valentine’s Day is also when we remember that terrible massacre where a bunch of gangsters killed another group of gangsters, which upset a lot of people, although I don’t see why. I would think gangsters killing gangsters is a sport we should encourage. In fact, I’ve been thinking we should arm both sides in Congress, seal the doors, and let them fight it out. We could televise it as a Pay-For-View event and use the proceeds to pay down our debt to the Chinese government. Then as the weary, battered survivors come limping out, we feed them to rabid batweasels. Hurrah!
And now I must go. I hope you have a great Valentine’s Day if you’re with someone or if you end up alone, which happens to the best of us and is not a reflection on your worth as a person so put down that gallon of cherry pecan ice cream. Just remember to keep your chin up, particularly if you’re eating soup, and you’ll be okay. And if romantic bitterness is eating your soul, join me outside. I’ll be picking out cars.
Be seeing you in the parking lots.
Excerpted from Floozy & Other Stories. Copyright 2013 by Stephen B. Bagley. No copying without express written permission from the author and publisher.