By Shani Asokan
Ceylon Today Features
I'm tempted to begin this article with a quote a colleague of mine who, in response to my complaining that Valentine's Day is a useless holiday, said "It isn't even a holiday, so it's just useless." However that would make for a very short article. I suppose by telling that story, I have still ended up quoting him in the first two lines, but nevertheless, let's laugh and move on.
The celebration of St. Valentine, is centuries old. With roots in both ancient Roman rituals and customs from Victorian England, the origins of this holiday are hard to trace. In ancient Roman history, the identity and mythology surrounding Saint Valentine is shrouded in mystery. In Christian and Roman tradition, February has long been a month celebrated for romance. In the history of the Catholic Church, there are at least three different Saint Valentines, all of whom have been described as martyrs.
The first, a priest from the third century in Rome, was put to death for performing marriages in secret when they had been outlawed by the Emperor at the time. Emperor Claudius II outlawed marriages for young men because he thought that it distracted them from being good soldiers. The second Valentine was apparently killed for helping Christians escape harsh Roman prisons. The third, and perhaps most significant, was a Valentine who, when imprisoned, sent the first ever Valentine's greeting to the jailer's daughter who would often visit him during his incarceration. He even signed it "From your Valentine," a phrase that is common even today.
Obviously, all three Valentines are so steeped in mythology that it is hard to discern if there is any truth to them at all. However, all three emulate three key characteristics; they are sympathetic, heroic and romantic. The perfect ingredients to make up the patron Saint of love.
The Victorian Era side of things comes into play when you look at the history of Valentine's Day. Of course, owing to the fact that no one at the time thought of writing these things down, there are once again multiple legends surrounding this day. The first is that it was originally celebrated as a feast to celebrate St. Valentine's death which may have occurred around AD 270 (allegedly). The second and more interesting one is that the Christian Church may have decided to celebrate St. Valentine's feast at this time in an attempt to effectively replace the Pagan festival of Lupercalia.
Incidentally, Lupercalia is a fertility festival dedicated to Faunus, the Roman God of Agriculture, as well as the founders of Rome, Romulus and Remus. Lupercalia was outlawed in the 5th Century when Pope Gelasius officially named 14 February to be Valentine's Day. However, it would be a couple more centuries until the day became connected with the celebration of love.
V-Day greetings have been popular ever since the Middle Ages, with the oldest known Valentine in existence being a poem from 1415 written by the Duke of Orleans to his wife, while he was imprisoned in the Tower of London. Over time, the celebration of Valentine's Day has become more and more popular, with greetings and wishes ranging from letters, poems and handmade greeting cards, to flowers, heart shaped boxes of candy and other store bought novelties. And with this overly enthusiastic celebration of love comes the one thing you don't want associated with a holiday, the commercialization.
I'm a cynic about most things, but I'm also all for celebrating love. Be it romantic, or platonic, love makes the world go around. It makes long days feel a little shorter, and heavy burdens feel a little lighter. Yes, let's celebrate love. While it goes without saying that love should be celebrated every day, it's nice to have a special day set aside to commemorate your love.
Let's face it. As much as we love our parents, family, friends, or significant others, we often forget to show them how much we love them. In a world as busy as ours, things like this often go unsaid, often until it is way too late. Thus, having a specific day helps you plan something special to show them how much they mean to you. Now, actually remembering that it is Valentine's Day and pulling lazy self together to actually do something is a whole other basket of eggs, and is completely your own problem.
Okay, now that we've got all that closet romantic nonsense out of the way, let's talk about my biggest pet peeve about this holiday, the commercialization. As far as holidays go (still not a real holiday) V-Day is probably one of the most exploited ones out there. Valentine's week sees restaurants slapping the big bucks on fancy meals, all in the name of love.
Stores, both retail and online stock up on a range of chocolates, vast enough to meet anyone's fancy, and prices high enough to make any young man or woman's wallet disintegrate at the thought of them. Now, to be completely honest, I have in the past been known to indulge in the said chocolates. In fact, I'm looking forwards to visiting the supermarket closest to me in the coming week to see what they have on display. However, that anecdote of honesty aside, there is no justifying the exorbitant prices put on these things during this time. I once saw a popular brand of chocolate giving a free faux red rose away with every slab of its chocolate. The price of the said chocolate could have bought you a small bouquet of flowers.
Flowers. Another staple of Valentine's that adds to the commercialization of the holiday. While giving your significant other a big bouquet of flowers may be vital to your staying in their good books for the rest of the month, fresh flowers are just not worth the price. Not only are you destroying the environment, but you're also paying for something that's going to die on you in a couple of days. In the words of Anthony T. Hincks, "Valentine's Day, a lovers delight, or a flowers worst nightmare!"
Over the years, large organizations have capitalized on the romantic love aspect of this holiday, turning it into something that's more of a burden on your wallet than a day to celebrate your love. Like I said before, I'm all for celebrating love.
So maybe this Valentine's, we can take the day back from commercialization. Make your loved ones a nice home cooked meal. Of course, if you are prone to burning down the kitchen, maybe order in something nice from a small business or home baker. Settle for a good old handmade card or an old fashioned love letter to profess your feelings. Let's bring the much needed authenticity back to this non-holiday on 14 February.
"Love attracts, connects, builds and frees the beauty of humanity. Happy Valentine's Day!" - Eugenia Herlihy.
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