How Sex, Politics, Money and Religion are Killing Planet Earth

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The Commercialization of Saint Valentine

I am not an incurable cynic, really, I’m not. I spent much of my teenage and young adult life fawning over imagined and real romances, addicted to love, even if I found it in mostly the wrong places. When I grew up, I did the expected thing and got married and had children, and I wouldn't change one detail of my history, given the option. After 22 years of marriage to the same man, I can say, however, that the heart-shaped box of chocolates and dozen roses version of commercialized love bears no resemblance to the real thing, and this is a good thing. So why do we keep buying it?
Hubby and I when we were just a couple of kids in romantic lust
Like many of the holidays that we are expected to make purchases for, the contemporary traditions of consumerism surrounding Saint Valentine’s Day didn't originate with the holiday.  In fact, like many “Christian” holidays, Saint Valentine’s Day is a hijacked holiday, established in 469 C.E. by the Holy Roman Emperor Gelasius in an effort to replace and/or overshadow traditional pagan activities that took place on and around February 14.

Like a lot of pagan merriment, the festivals of Juno Fructifier (Roman goddess of marriage) on Feb. 14 and Lupercalia (dedicated to Faunus, the Roman god of fertility), February 13-15 were raucous events. To honor Juno, pagans drew names to randomly determine an individual with whom they could choose to couple with in the following year.  

The festivities surrounding Lupercalia are even more peculiar. Men would venture to the cave where Romulous and Remus (the founders of Rome) were supposedly suckled by a she wolf, sacrifice an animal, and then proceed to chase and slap women with bloody straps from the carcass. Apparently, this was conducive to increasing fertility, although I cannot determine the rationale behind the ritual.

Even after the holiday was hijacked in 469 C.E., it wasn’t until the Victorian Era in the 19th Century that anybody had the notion to commercially exploit the day for profit. The commercialization started innocently enough, with mass-produced cards, but like all good marketing ideas has now exploded into the modern enterprise, which claims third place among profitable holidays, behind only Christmas and Halloween. Interestingly, the Catholic Church disavowed itself from the day in the 1960’s, so now the holiday maintains only its commercial, rather than any religious values.

I think it is sad that in our frenetic Western lives that we have only a single day of the year dedicated to showing our loved ones that we care for them. Even sadder, is that most of us will buy into the marketing and express that love as cheap trinkets purchased from a store. Our lives are so filled with commuting to work, working and unwinding from work that, like our eating, our love has been relegated to a fast-food version that is a cheap imitation of the real thing.

I don’t need a teddy bear, box of chocolates or environmentally disastrous cut flowers to feel loved. In fact, if that were the only way my husband showed his love for me, I would be left feeling pretty shallow. Instead, we talk to each other, a lot. We send each other daily messages. We are always there to support one another when life dishes out its doses of disappointment and despair. We prepare thoughtful meals for each other. We give each other the occasional massage. We argue, fight and sometimes hate one another, but out of a primary respect for ourselves and the relationship, we determine to work through it. Sometimes it isn’t sexy or even fun, but eventually we always come around to loving each other again.

As we grow up together, the loving part gets easier because unlike the cheap fantasies sold in the store, we both realize that neither one of us is perfect. Reality forced us both into giving up the commercialized version of romance years ago. We have discovered the real meaning of love, which is to see a person as they really are and love them anyway.

Today and every day, show your loved ones that you really love them in ways that don’t involve buying something. Happy Valentines Day.