Valentine's day: What's love got to do with it?
What is Valentine's Day?
THE fourteenth of February is St Valentine's Day, commonly shortened to Valentine's Day as the saint who lent it his name has become buried under a man-made mountain of cards, cocoa solids, tawdry undergarments, heart-shaped iPod chargers and smirking cupid figurines.
It marks the death of one, or perhaps two, early Christian martyrs and was established as a saint's day by Pope Gelasius l in 500 AD. Owing to confusion over which beatified Valentine was actually being remembered, Pope Paul VI removed St Valentine's Day from the Roman calendar of saints in 1969.
The day's connection with romance has possibly become tangled up with the ancient Roman fertility festival Lupercalia, which ran from 13-15 February.
Its modern status as the international festival of red roses and overpriced dinners has its roots in Geoffrey Chaucer's 1382 poem, Parlement of Foules, written to honour the engagement of King Richard II of England to Anne of Bohemia. He refers to birds choosing a mate on "Volantynys day". This was commonly assumed to be 14 February, until it was noticed that birds do not much fancy mating in the dark mornings of freezing mid-February. Scholars now think that Chaucer was referring to yet another St Valentine, an early bishop of Genoa whose saint's day is the balmier 2 May.
But the seed of the idea was sown, and St Valentine's Day is mentioned by Shakespeare and John Donne. Edmund Spenser, in his epic 1590 poem The Faerie Queene, is the first person to note that roses are red and violets are blue, although they were not put in a Valentine's rhyme for another 200 years.
Valentine cards as we now know them emerged around about the same time, at the end of the 18th century. An enterprising printer published The Young Man's Valentine Writer, for those keen to impress a lady in verse but stuck for their own words. Other printers were producing cards with sentimental poems and sketches which, combined with the reduction in the cost of stamps, started the craze for posting cards. These were often anonymous, which emboldened the Victorian suitor to express the thoughts and desires he dare not mention in the drawing room.
From these often charming cards it was a short hop to flowers, chocolates, cryptic classified adverts, saucy text messages, love heart deely-boppers for infants and Swarovski crystal-encrusted "be my Valentine" hoodies for dogs.
Who was St Valentine?
As Valentine was a popular name between the second and eight centuries, there are several saints of that name: a Roman priest, a bishop from Interanmna (the Umbrian city now known as Terni), and a Roman martyr from the empire's African provinces. It's Valentine of Rome and Valentine of Terni who are connected to 14 February.
The only documented legend surrounding St Valentine – probably the one from Interanmna – is that he was persecuted as a Christian by Claudius ll. The emperor tried to convert Valentine to Roman paganism but Valentine held fast to his beliefs and tried to convince the terrifying Claudius to follow Jesus. For this he was executed, on 14 February, but not before he healed the blind daughter of his jailer.
Over the centuries Valentine's CV has been embellished, first with the spurious fact that he opposed Claudius's law that young men must not marry, and performed secret wedding ceremonies. Card company American Greetings later made up the poignant detail that, the night before his death, Valentine wrote a note to his beloved (who may or may not have been the now-sighted blind girl). This was, of course, the first Valentine's card and was signed "from your Valentine".
Are ST Valentine's bones really in the Gorbals?
Depends who you ask. There is a casket marked "Corpus Valentini Martyris" at the church of Blessed St John Duns Scotus in Ballater Street. The Franciscan friars have been looking after these remains since 1868, when a French family sought new homes for its considerable collection of religious relics. They were in a side aisle at the church of St Francis, round the corner in Cumberland Street, for more than a century. They were then kept in a cardboard box on the top of a wardrobe in the nearby chapel house until they moved into their current home in 1999.
However, there is another, equally authentic-looking casket of St Valentine's remains in the Carmelite Church in Whitefriar Street, Dublin, to say nothing of a statue and a souvenir shop.
How is Jennifer Aniston spending Valentine's Day?
The world's most famous serial singleton will be spending tomorrow with her dear friend Courtney Cox. The Cougar Town star has recently split up with her husband, thus leaving her available to pop round to Jen's, break out the Diet Snapple, open the fat-free frozen yoghurt and weep over The Way We Were.
In a recent online poll, 41-year-old Aniston was named the most desirable female Valentine date. Johnny Depp and Brad Pitt, the former Mr Aniston who is now Mr Angelina Jolie, were top male choices. Jolie garnered many lesbian votes, while gay men would prefer to snuggle up with Ryan Reynolds. The least popular choices were Marmite-glazed American reality star Snooki and squeaking Canadian Justin Bieber.
Is it just a 'Hallmark Holiday'?
Those who have allowed the iron to enter their soul, or who find themselves in the Aniston situation, sneer at Valentine's Day. The Americans, who imported the day from the UK and then turned it into a mighty polyester cheese-fest, have also coined a term to disparage it. "Hallmark holidays" are tricked up occasions orchestrated by card manufacturers to sell chocolate body paint, heart-shaped fridge magnets, suggestive boxer shorts and one billion cards worldwide.
At least 14 February has some historical connection with an actual saint, however blurred and tenuous. Other Hallmark holidays include Grandparents' Day, Sweetest Day (started by a Cleveland confectioner with an eye for the main chance in 1921), Boss's Day and Administrative Professional's Day.
Is Valentine's Day destroying the planet?
Those who seek to save the world point out that the red roses which appear in every garage forecourt and supermarket in the middle of February are grown as a cash crop in developing countries, using cheap labour and toxic chemicals to produce blooms which are then air-freighted to our corner shops. Kenya's Lake Naivasha region sends 800 million individual flowers to Europe for the February boom, which accounts for around a third of florists' annual revenue. Cut flowers are Kenya's biggest export generator, employing more than 70,000 people. Ethiopia and South Africa also supply Europe, whereas the US sources its bouquets from Ecuador and Colombia.
The right-on should, instead, present a posy of snowdrops, Christmas roses or Michaelmas daisies, all native flowers which are in season at the moment. Last year Angelina Jolie gave Brad Pitt a 200-year-old olive tree for their estate in the south of France, but that's just showing off.
The anti-consumerism movement also reminds us that no one really needs the gizmos and geegaws which are dreamt up for 14 February – Sainsbury's, home of the heart-shaped cucumber, they mean you. Although unlike most other options – a glitter-encrusted card that's taller than a toddler, a hippo with a soppy message on its belly to hang in the car, a tea tray-sized box of truffles, a pair of pants that constitutes a fire hazard – at least the cucumber contains vitamins, is biodegradable and is unlikely to end up at the back of a drawer or at a car boot sale.
Have there been any disastrous Valentines?
Arthur Miller wrote The Misfits for his then wife, Marilyn Monroe, as a Valentine's gift. It casts the world's sweetheart as a depressed divorcee, washed up in Reno, diving straight into a bottle of booze. It was a critical and box office flop.
Barbie and Ken (yes, the dolls) split up on 14 February, 2004. Ken is currently using Facebook and Twitter to woo her back.
Last year Britney Spears and her beau, manager Jason Trawick, had a romantic dinner of French fries at a drive-through McDonalds. But they are still together, so she can't have minded too much.
Jay-Z, on the other hand, gave Beyonc a platinum cell phone. Now that is a gift. Nothing says I love you like the gratuitous use of the world's most expensive precious metal.
Is it acceptable to Tweet your Valentine?
Certainly. Using social networking sites and the appropriate hashtag to tell a certain someone you can't update your status, never mind concentrate on Mafia Wars, for thinking about their violet eyes is perfectly acceptable and much less environmentally damaging than sending a printed card via snail mail. Love-struck Facebookers should, however, be aware of various hearts-and-roses adorned scams that are circulating on the site.
Edinburgh lovers can see their messages appear on a giant screen in Festival Square today and tomorrow. Various websites offer a range of special Valentines emoticons, to add that je ne sais quoi to your romantic texts, emails, DMs and IMs. One even updates The Young Man's Valentine Writer for the 21st century and suggests whole messages. "All I ever wanted was sum1 like U". Romance is alive, well and living in cyberspace.
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