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Discussion 1 to A Miscellany 133
Valentine's Day

by: JT

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If I am going to add a day to the Apathetic Agnostic calendar, I prefer to be able to give it an agnostic twist. I don't see it in this case.

Also, I don't think that Valentine's Day is a traditional religious holiday that has been hijacked by profiteering corporations. It has been a secular occasion for centuries. It happens to fall on a saint's day from which it has borrowed its name, but under the Catholic calendar, every day is a saint's day. In fact, there are so many saints that 14 February honours not just one Saint Valentine, but three of them.

The Catholic Church is not particularly happy about the association of the day with romance. Actually, they are currently encouraging singles seeking a permanent relationship to pray, not to one of the three Saint Valentines, but to Saint Raphael, patron saint of "happy meetings." (Happy meetings is most definitely not to be used in its one-night-stand meaning in this case.) Apparently, a prayer has to be said to St. Raphael for nine consecutive days for him to work his matchmaking magic.

So where did Valentine's Day come from?

Many authorities link it back to the Roman feast of Lupercalia, the festival of sexual license celebrated on 15 February. However, with the appropriation of Roman celebrations and their incorporation into the early Catholic Church, the festival was changed into one celebrating the Virgin Mary (illustrating Catholic logic) then subsequently changed to 2 February, or Candlemas. So Lupercalia is now effectively celebrated (in North America, anyway) as Groundhog Day.

A better story (in my view) for the background of celebrating love on St. Valentine's Day was that in medieval England and France it was considered that birds paired-off for the season in mid-February, or on about the 14th So the day became one on which human lovebirds would exchange romantic correspondence - or Valentine letters. In 18th Century England, the letters became cards, and in the early 19th Century the custom of card-giving crossed the ocean to North America.

I think true romance would be better served on the day if we went back to the practice of exchanging well-thought-out handwritten letters instead of cards and overpriced chocolates in heart-shaped boxes.

As an aside - where did that heart shape come from?

The now extinct plant, sylphium, was used in the seventh century for birth control. Its seedpod was heart-shaped, and the shape became associated with sex, and then with love. So when you exchange a box of chocolates with someone as a step towards a "happy meeting," (whether St. Raphaelian or not) let it be a reminder to take precautions.