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Not About the Necco Hearts

Guest Column
Andrew C. Thomas

Valentine’s Day has once again passed us. Couples had romantic dinners, shared walks on sandy beaches and romantic boardwalks (at least, in their imaginations or on TV) and most importantly, enjoyed each other’s company. New love began to blossom, and old love shone truer than a full moon. The tradition itself has been going on for millennia, and has evolved since its inception in order to stay alive in whatever culture embraces it. However, like many other major celebrations, the holiday has been too greatly twisted and distorted.

The history of Valentine’s Day is in fact a fascinating story, filled with sex and violence, that if properly interpreted would make any Hollywood filmmaker’s career. Originally a pagan celebration of the flesh, the day was assimilated into Roman culture as part of the Feast of Lupercus, a day of worship towards the protection of sheep from wolves, but as history suggests, also a day of a rite of passage for Roman males and homage to the goddess Juno Februata, where each man would select a woman, by lot, resulting in a year-long partnership. The priest known as Valentine is reputed to have lived in the third century, and troubled Roman authorities by marrying people after a ban had been imposed by Emperor Claudius II, who subsequently executed him. He was later canonized and made the patron saint of lovers. The day of his execution, Feb. 14, became his saint’s day. So, like most other holidays we celebrate in this day and age, it has its basis in history.

However, leaving alone the religious significance of the day, things are certainly wrong with it. In the Julian calendar at that time, February was a spring month, much more similar to late March or early April. And in the spring, people definitely get more excited as “spring fever” hits and mating instincts kick in. Back in Roman times, the two events were simultaneous. Today Valentine’s Day, for the most part, takes place during a very cold and, barring a beautiful blizzard, unromantic part of the year. As a result, a new force must come in to balance this change, since non-Christians would not celebrate the day for religious reasons. The force? Commercialism. We as a society are drenched with the importance of Valentine’s Day largely for the financial gain of Hallmark and FTD, among others. This change in pressure devalues the day for me as it has for Christmas and Hallowe’en, two other holidays with strong pagan roots that were in turn taken over first by religious elements and then by commercial endeavors.

I do not doubt the genuine motives of those who wish to make the day an homage to love and romance. But this leaves me equally unsatisfied, since it seems that the day has now been made independent of both biology and altruism. The idea that the celebration is purely about love has become drowned in a sea of heart-shaped candies. If anything, the ideals of love in all its forms should be upheld year-round. However, if I were to seriously believe that all people were capable of being respectful and honest to one another all the time (which is the basis for true love in all its forms) then I’d be in a dream world. But change is made by the pursuit of dreams.

So I say go back to biology. Now that it’s past, forget about Valentine’s Day but not your Valentines. Buy flowers or chocolates year round for those people you care deeply about, and hug or compliment the rest on a regular basis. And when the warm weather hits as it will no doubt do several times in the next two months, embrace your hormones. For while they may not have the power to make you love your neighbor or prospective fiancÉe quite like a greeting card, at least they’ll make you love life.

Andrew C. Thomas is a member of the class of 2004.