What is this thing called, love?
Christmas is behind us, but there is another ritual festival pending: Valentine's day - or Saint Valentine's day.
The history of the day is shrouded in convoluted connections. The Roman Catholic church has a number of Saints called Valentine on its books. Obviously it was once a more popular name for a chap than it is today. Or, perhaps, people made the connection between being named Valentine and being brutally martyred and decided the risks were just too high. Bob is notably absent in the names on 'The Big Book of Saints'. Perhaps its a generational thing?
As with most festivals on the modern calendar there are two ends of the spectrum. At one sits a pagan pre-Christian origin. The idea of Valentines Day as way of expressing one's love and devotion to one's nearest and dearest is comparatively new. Before Chaucer's day there is little or no record of it. Did you know that Chaucer and Shakespeare had to make a lot of language up? Shakespeare was the first to use the word 'bubble'. I have no reason to believe that romantic aspect of Valentine's Day wasn't simply a confection of Chaucer's (whose miraculous imaginings would often lead his friends to remark…"Geoff, thou art truly clever in thy improvisations." To wit he would oft reply "It is not an improvisation, I doth simply maketh it up as I go along."
That the day falls in February fuels speculation that it was an adaption from an earlier work. The ancient Romans had a fertility festival in February called
…of which many write that it was anciently celebrated by shepherds, and has also some connection with the Arcadian Lycaea. At this time many of the noble youths and of the magistrates run up and down through the city naked, for sport and laughter striking those they meet with shaggy thongs. And many women of rank also purposely get in their way, and like children at school present their hands to be struck, believing that the pregnant will thus be helped in delivery, and the barren to pregnancy.
On Feb 14 don't be surprised if you get'shagged' by a naked youth. Hopefully not by a magistrate - who are usually somewhat unattractive.
Ever pragmatic we have moved on from exchanging handwritten notes of timid affection to a full blown marketing assault on our senses and sensibilities. The introduction of anonymous expressions has given Hallmark and Interflora license to leverage licentiousness, perhaps harking back to our ancient drives to mate widely, scattering the seed or at least hedging our bets. Why send one card when you can send many? Thank you Hallmark. Without you how would we know how to feel?
Well, it is time for the practice to stop. The only way you can be sure you are 'the one and only' will be signified by the receipt of a box of Serious Brownees - which, during February are known as such for their magical ability to determine if it is 'true' love. In the words of Diana Krall "Is you is, or is you ain't my baby."
Ahh, true love. Doesn't it just make you want to cuddle a kitten? Or run away screaming on a commitment-phobic dash?
I have more to say about this matter. I'll keep you posted.
Bittersweet image via Despair.com