A Brief History of Valentine’s Day

Valentines Day is tomorrow and it’s going to go badly for you. Sorry to be such a ‘downer’, but I’m not telling you anything you don’t know, am I? Significant research I pretend to have read reveals that Valentines Day ends up being a pleasant experience for about Three out of every One Thousand people, and seriously, are you that lucky?

This lovely Valentine is not for you

Valentine’s day will only go well for a few small, select groups of people. Every couple where each partner loves the other exactly equally and both are perfectly equal in ability to select pleasing gifts and cards and have perfect knowledge of their partners feeling about surprises as opposed to what they have previously led you to believe were their feelings about surprise will have a nice holiday. Add to that one half of all the people who will end up getting pity sex from a unexpected source, and keep in mind that their happiness is only going to last between five and ten minutes. Everyone else will run the gamut from slightly uneasy to suicide.

That’s being said, lets take a quick look at the history of this happy, happy day.

Valentine’s Day contains vestiges of traditions both Christian and Roman, from whom they stole many of their best ideas like Aqueducts, rigid hierarchy and nifty ways to persecute people with different belief systems.

Legend has it the historical Saint Valentine was a Christian Priest living in Third century Rome. The Emperor at that time, Claudius II, had commissioned a military study and after pretending to read it came to the conclusion that single men made much better soldiers than married men in that there wives weren’t all the time reminding them not to die. In what is now sited by many as the birth of modern political science, Claudius II, whose critic accused him of being ‘soft’ on ‘Visigoths’, outlawed marriage for young men. Valentine defied the Emperor’s decree and continued to marry young lovers in secret, until he was advised that as a Priest he was not allowed to marry at all, no matter how secretly. He then began marrying young couples he was not a member of, until he recalled Christ’s dictum: “Not so much with the polygamy” at which point he hit upon the idea of marrying two young people to each other, neither one of them being him. Claudius found out and was so displeased he had Valentine imprisoned, stoned to death, and then on February 14’Th, 207 AD., beheaded. This may be why so many of us feel like ripping our heads off every Valentines Day, but sadly, there’s more to the story.

Saint Valentine masked chronic social anxiety disorder by hiding in urinals

During Valentine’s imprisonment, he was visited by the jailer’s daughter, and the two fell in love. The story goes he signed his letters to her, “… Your Valentine”, but it’s far more likely his letters were mostly signed “Please try really hard to talk your father out of cutting my head off.” Try putting that on a card sometime and you’ll see why greeting card companies went with the whole ‘your Valentine’ thing.

On an interesting side note, in 1835 the remains of Saint Valentine were given to an Irish Priest named Father John Spratt by Pope Gregory the XVI after Spratt impressed the Pope with his impassioned preaching, or perhaps because who really wants that kind of stuff lying around anyway? The gift, in a black and gold casket, can be viewed every Valentine’s day at the Whitefriar street church in Dublin, unless they were kidding about that. Note to intrepid tourists, the receptacle next to the saints’ remains is a ‘Font’ and not a ‘conveniently placed bucket for those who find ancient mortal remains nauseating’.

Pope Gregory XVI’s dour countenance hid the delight he took in gifting visiting pilgrims with desiccated human body parts

Should you find exchanging love tokens on the anniversary of a beheading less than pleasant, there’s always the possibility that it’s just a coincidence. The Catholic church may have chosen mid February for the saint’s day to co-opt the already existing Roman festival of Lupercalia, the festival of wolves doing something it’s best not to interrupt.

Lupercalia, which began February fifteenth, was a fertility festival dedicated to Faunus, the Roman god of agriculture and doin’ it, as well as to the Roman founders Romulus (after whom Rome is named) and Remus (allegedly a polite request on the part of the peasants, but it would probably have happened anyway.)

This classic Roman Bronze depicts something you should totally not let babies do

To begin the festival, members of the Luperci, (literally ‘wolf voyeurs’) an order of Roman priests, would gather at the sacred cave where the infants Romulus and Remus were believed to have been cared for by a she-wolf or lupa. The priests would then sacrifice a goat, for fertility, a dog, for purification, and a vagrant, for fun. Young boys 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 goathide strips, mostly because you can’t make this shit up. Roman women of the day welcomed being touched by the bloody hides, as it was believed they conveyed fertility, and also because all the bread they ate was contaminated with ergot fungus which makes you just about as crazy as an outhouse weasel and likely to do any old thing.

The festival of Lupercalia. Gooooood times.

Later in the day, all the young women in the city would place their names in a big urn. The city’s bachelors would then each choose a name out of the urn and become paired for the year with his chosen woman. This often led to marriage, but more often to scabies, chiggers and ‘accidental’ death.

During the middle ages it was commonly believed that February 14 was the beginning of bird’s mating season and everybody knows the only thing more romantic than watching birds copulate is being lovingly stroked with a bloody goat carcass.

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 following his capture at the Battle of Agincourt. It closed with the immortal lines
‘PS. Please, please try really hard to get the king to not cut off my head’

Valentines day began to be popularly celebrated (i.e. no bloody goat carcasses involved) in Great Britain in the late 17’Th century. By the middle of the Eighteenth century, it had become common for friends and lovers to exchange tokens of affection and hand written notes often pleading for pity sex. Soon, rapidly developing printing technology made mass-produced greetings available and affordable, though if you disliked Barbie, Disney Princesses, Spiderman, Batman or Star Wars you were what the Elizabethans called “Phucked”.

Cupid, the child like winged deity often associated with modern Valentine’s Day celebrations, is the son of Venus, Roman Goddess of love. In Greek Mythology, Cupid is known as Eros, child of Aphrodite. Why present day lovers associate a fat, naked, flying baby with romance is anybodies guess, although a quick Google search for any word at all with the ‘safe search’ feature off lets us know people are willing to sexualize pretty much anything.

Seriously, this is what lights your candle? Where are you from, Tennessee?

Today’s Valentine’s celebration is mostly about making school children give cards to everyone in their class, as if this will somehow keep the children everyone hates from knowing everyone hates them. Valentine’s day can also be employed effectively as a bribe, threat or both. In the USA, 17 Gabajazillion Valentines cards are sold every year by front companies for the military industrial complex, who use all of the proceeds to research death rays, freeze rays, shrink rays, and other rays too nasty to mention, so go ahead, try to be romantic. Just don’t say I didn’t warn you.


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