Let me begin with some wonderful news: This coming weekend, Valentine’s Day candy will be on sale.
And of course most of us in some manner or another will celebrate Valentine’s Day this Thursday. Any number of us (who won’t be attending a city council meeting) might even wash up that evening, put on a clean shirt and take our special someone out to dinner, perhaps give a card or some gift. It’s the tradition, after all.
Years ago I was a sales guy in the software business and found myself in San Francisco on Valentine’s Day. I was out there with a couple other guys – Microsoft was having a big deal in the convention center there, starting the next day – and we were out there to staff the booth at the trade show taking place as part of the big deal.
We were cleaned up, well groomed (trade show, am I right?) and decided to take advantage of the expense account and go out to dinner. Seafood, always a good choice, so we went to a restaurant down by the water our cab driver recommended.
And there we were, the three of us, Arkansas’ finest software salesmen, scarfing down fish while at the tables around us the candle-lit sweethearts enjoyed their Valentine’s Day dinner at a romantic waterfront restaurant. Violin music played. Did you ever feel like a sore thumb? We skipped dessert.
(The trade show, by the way, was something else. Big budget, even had Carlos Santana for entertainment one night. By the last day they just opened the doors to all comers in order to drive the attendance numbers up. This led to the experience of explaining the subtle and nuanced joy of computer telephony software to someone who didn’t care but looked interested, while her compatriot snuck behind her and scooped up all the give-away pens she could grab.)
But somewhere in the middle of all that was the experience, the tradition, of Valentine’s Day.
It used to be called “Saint Valentine’s Day.” Valentine was a Saint, according to Roman Catholic doctrine, who was martyred back when years were three-digits long, in Africa. (His head, according to Wikipedia, is preserved in an abbey in Winchester, where it is venerated, so there’s that.)
The “Saint” was removed in 1969 by the Roman Catholic Church, which up to then had maintained Feb. 14, the day of his martyrdom, as a feast day, as there were questions about the history. The date being a Roman Catholic Feast Day was also ended that year.
But let’s talk about the love of it. Because sometime after martyrdom came the notion of romantic love, beginning in the 14th Century.
Romantic love, of course, is one of the more interesting and wonderful things you humans do, as the attraction to someone becomes so overpowering that it takes over your, well, you. You can’t stop thinking about her (him) and it is a love for one, single, person.
Valentine’s Day became a celebration of this romantic love, this overpowering affection for that special someone. (The sort of people who like to spoil movie endings will tell you all this really has its roots in Roman fertility rituals. The proof for this is actually, and at best, sparse. In this space, we’re sticking with saints giving way to romantic love celebration.)
The celebration on that day of romantic love was first mentioned in poetry (of course) in the late 1300s. By the late 1700s this led to sending a card, a hand-written poem, to that special someone on Valentine’s Day. A reduction in postal rates and increased access to commercial printing led to Valentine’s Day cards being mailed about by the mid-1800s. By the late 1800s candy seemed like a good thing to include, as did flowers.
And it began with honoring those willing to sacrifice themselves for something greater than themselves.
And ends with a good deal on bulk candy bars.
Happy Valentine’s Day. Watch your head.