Friday, February 10, 2012

Fun Friday Facts #28: Valentine's Day Edition

That's right, kids, Valentine's Day is almost here!

Yep, that's the one!

As far as I'm concerned, Valentine's Day is good for only two things:

  1. Identifying the emotionally stunted and/or embittered, and
  2. Having lots of hot sex.

Since you can have lots of hot sex any day of the year, that means it's really only good for one thing. Besides, I can't approve of any holiday that seems designed to create hard feelings and misery. If you're single on Valentine's Day, you're almost obligated to hate yourself (and your meaningless existence) for at least that 24-hour period, even if you're perfectly happy the rest of the year. If you're not single on Valentine's Day, you might nevertheless feel bewildered, panicky, confused, and even secretly (or not so secretly) resentful. Seriously, I've never met anyone who claims to like this holiday. Well, except for children, but that's because they always receive valentines. It's required.

By law.

So why do we celebrate Valentine's Day? Actually, no one really knows.

This whole situation is dodgy as hell. ~ Abigail Batchelder

1) The Saint Valentine in question could be one of at least three, or possibly more, people. “Valentine” was a popular name back in the day.

The two most likely candidates are Valentine of Rome and Valentine of Terni. Valentine of Terni was martyred first, in about 197 AD. Valentine of Rome was martyred about 269 AD. Both were buried on the Via Flaminia, supposedly on 14 February. A third Valentine was martyred along with some of his friends somewhere in Africa, but we don't know where or when. Yet another Saint Valentine, Valentine of Genua, was a bishop who died in 307 AD and has a feast day on 2 May.

Legend has it that Saint Valentine (of Rome, probably) was martyred by Emperor Claudius II for performing marriages in secret. Apparently, Claudius II had outlawed marriages for young men in an effort to strengthen the military, in the belief that bachelors make better soldiers.

Valentine disagreed.

This may, of course, be bullsh*t. It's certainly bullsh*t that Valentine himself wrote, on the night before his death sentence was carried out, the first-ever Valentine's card to his sweetheart, signed, “From your Valentine.” American Greetings made that up. You know, to sell more cards. 

2) Some trace the practice of Valentine's Day as a celebration of romantic love back to Geoffrey Chaucer, who, in 1382, wrote a poem memorializing the engagement of King Richard II of England to Anne of Bohemia. Chaucer's poem is the first historical mention of a Saint Valentine's Day. The betrothal treaty was signed on 2 May 1381, the feast day of Saint Valentine of Genua, which is not our Valentine's Day, because we would've noticed that.

3) The practice of celebrating Saint Valentine's Day on 14 February, and its associations with romantic love, may go back to the Roman festival of Lupercalia. Lupercalia was a fertility rite that occurred from 13-15 February and probably involved lots of hot sex. According to this dubious website, young Roman men drew the names of young women from a lottery, and then got to bang whoever they picked all year long.

I know the Romans were total pervs, but I'm not sure I believe that.

4) The oldest existing valentine was poem from Charles, Duke of Orleans to his wife. It dates back to the 1400s. If I remember my historical novels correctly, Charles was taken prisoner by the English at the battle of Agincourt and spent a sh*tload of years locked up in the Tower of London. That's where he sent the valentine from.

5) Up until the 19th century, most people wrote out their valentines by hand. Books such as The Young Man's Valentine Writer, published in 1797, offered love poems for those without literary talents. The 19th century brought cheaper postal rates and the proliferation of mass-produced valentine cards in the UK. The tradition traveled to America in 1847, when Esther Howland, daughter of a stationer, began producing and distributing them in Massachusetts.

Americans today send 190 million valentines, half of which are exchanged between parents and children or other family members, other than spouses. The nation's schoolchildren produce about almost a billion valentines each year; teachers and children therefore receive more valentines than anyone else.

See, I told you. Didn't I tell you?