The origin of Valentine's Day, it is believed, can be traced back to ancient Rome. In those days, wolves roamed the nearby woods and Romans called upon Lupercus he who wards off wolves to chase them away. Lupercalia was created and the festival to honor the god Lupercus was held on February 15th.

On the eve of the festival, it was customary for young girls to write their names on slips of paper to be placed in a box and drawn, then, by young men. The resulting couples would be paired until next year's celebration.

While this practice set the tone for today's holiday, it was not known as Valentine's Day until a man defied the decree of an emperor. Emperor Claudius II, who reigned from 268-270 AD, ordered that Roman soldiers remain bachelors. It was his opinion that marriage or betrothal would distract men, so that they would be unable to concentrate on battle.

Valentine, a Christian priest, defied the ordinance by performing secret marriage ceremonies. Eventually, though, he was caught, arrested and put to death on February 14th, the eve of Lupercalia. Before Valentine, bishop of Interamna, was clubbed, stoned and beheaded, he fell in love with the daughter of the jailer, Austerius. According to legend, the closing in his final farewell is one that has transcended time...
"from your Valentine".

He was later canonized and as Christianity achieved popularity in Rome, the day of the feast was moved to February 14th in honor of Saint Valentine.

In 496 AD, the Lupercian festival was outlawed by Pope Gelasius. The lottery, however, was continued, but instead of women's names in the box, there was placed in it the names of saints for the women as well as the men to draw from. Although slowly, the Romans eventually relinquished the Lupercian festival and replaced it with Saint Valentine's Day. On this day, the young men and women were expected to imitate the life of the saint whose name they had drawn.

As it had been established by the Lupercalia eve drawings, February was a time to meet prospective mates. While this was replaced, most of the young Roman men were not satisfied with the lottery of saints' names. Instead the men came to offer women they admired and wished to court handwritten greetings of affection on February 14th. These notes, given on a day that became synonymous with love, came to be known as Valentine's Day cards.

Last night, on my way home from work, I was sitting at a stop light and noticed the driver of the car next to me. She had long, blonde curly hair in a baseball cap, and she was struggling with an oversized, heart-shaped balloon. It must have been getting in her line of sight, because she kept trying to pin it down into the footwell of the passenger side front seat, leaning what looked like an oversized purse against it. There was no way to tell if the balloon was given to her by her co-workers (assuming she was employed) or her boyfriend/girlfriend. In either case, the gift seemed to fit her. She looked like every other woman I see in my daily comings and goings, and her valentine was likely among dozens tied to a white plastic grid at the local grocery store or florist. While she might have been upset if she hadn't gotten this balloon, she also didn't look too thrilled or happy with it, either.

Today is a day of testing. If you have just started seeing someone, as most of us do at the beginning of the year, you have options. You can use the day as a springboard to confess what would otherwise be frivilous or poorly timed sentiments and use it as a litmus paper test to see if the other person will be receptive or appreciative of your efforts. If you've been with someone for a while, it's a day used to reiterate what has already been established, or a day to attempt reunification when things have been going badly for a while. For those who have no one at the time, it merely reinforces that you are alone and that the world seems peopled only by couples because their presence is more visually obvious.

I've been in all three situations, and none of them involved actions that had much effect in improving the situation. I'm getting a little too old to be so bitter and all my exes are so long past that revenge would be more embarrassing than warranted. I can't remember one gift given to me on this day that managed to live past the 24 hour period so that it could be pressed into the infamy of a scrapbook or cigar box. My favorite gift that I gave was a handmade scroll with a poem I had written stenciled on it, tied with a ribbon like a diploma. Hand written letters are my favorite gift to give for Valentine's Day, usually.

This morning, my guy rolled over and faced me, eyes still closed. I wake up for work several hours before he even needs to get out of bed. He stretched and pulled the covers back around him, reaching his arm out to me. Grabbing my hand, he kissed me and said:

Happy Valentine's Day

He said it like most people say Merry Christmas, with that sense of celebration in early morning hours when the light outside is still blue and the bed is still warmer than the bathroom tile. He said it like Happy Birthday, as though we had overcome some hurdle in time. And while all this is still new to both of us, I guess we have.

It was the coolest gift I could have received.

Today, in fact, one of the many holidays (and I use the term loosely) now used by large corporations of greetings card makers (and probably Cadbury's) to make a huge amount of money in as little time as possible.

I appreciate that it may have had significance in the past but now, along with so many other Saints Days and holidays, its significance has paled under the attempts to mass market it.

Has been seen in a cynical light in The Simpsons in an episode about Love Day. The stores were wanting to make a new "holiday" to make extra cash between Christmas and Easter, or some other two holidays, and so they invented Love Day. Struck a chord when I saw it. How many people are fed up with seeing fluffy teddy bears and red heart-shaped boxes of chocolates. I don't want a teddy, and I don't want chocolates. I'm trying to lose weight, not put it on!

But, really, like so many other "hallmark days" there is no way it's going to stop until the general public stop purchasing all the tat. If they carry on buying it, the companies will continue to provide.

I've started a new project -- the idea is to write an appropriate drabble for every day of the year. This is February 14th's

Marion Arnold opens the door of 23 Salisbury Street. Her eyes stretch in disbelief, seeing the long-stem yellow rose. She’s 46 and this is her first valentine.

Your smile brightens my day,” the card says.

Heart fluttering, she recalls her neighbour commenting recently, “Smiling suits you.” She bakes a cake and, daringly, invites him for tea. Neither mentions the flower on the table, but they gaze at each other over it. They talk for hours.

At number 32, Melanie Arnold is too excited by her diamond engagement ring to notice that the rose her love sends every year didn’t arrive.

In Japan, Valentine's Day is celebrated differently than it is here. There is Valentine's Day and White Day.

On Valentine's Day, February 14, the women buy men gifts instead of men buying women gifts. A woman will usually buy chocolates for the man of their liking and also buy chocolates for co-workers and men who aren't so close to her.

These gifts of chocolate are divided into two types: giri choco (obligatory chocolate) and homei choco (chocolate for the man that she is into). Giri choco is given by women to their superiors at work as well as to other male co-workers. It's not unusual for a woman to buy up to 20 to 30 boxes of giri choco.

Departments stores and shops look forward to Valentine's Day, and promote with zeal because of its potential for increased sales. Large displays featuring chocolate usually with heart shapes start to grace the shelves of department stores in mid-January or so. Women who wil spend several hundred yen on giri choco will spend even more on a box of honmei choco.

While all of this may seem quite one-sided, confectioners in Japan - never ones to miss an opportunity to sell more - took advantage of the Japanese feelings of obligation and created "White Day" in 1980 to help assuage the guilt feelings of those obligated males who received chocolate on Valentine's Day. On March 14th, exactly one month after Valentine's Day, men who were lucky enough to receive gifts of chocolate have the chance to return the favor by giving the women who gave them gifts of chocolate a more expensive box of chocolate or sweets (for some reason or other, these return gifts seem to be priced slightly higher than those the women purchase).The White Day presents have some meanings. If a man gives a woman handkerchief, it means "I don't love you, so dry tears with the handkerchief by yourself." If a man gives a woman a cookies, it means "Let's remain friends." If a man gives a woman marshmallows, it means "I love you." If a man gives a woman candies, it means "I have a sweetheart."

Again, the stores provide plenty of reminders of the approach of this day so that even the most forgetful man cannot say that it slipped his mind. The gifts of chocolate that men buy are in white boxes (after all, it is "White Day") and come with separate shopping bags to put them in.

Valentine’s Day

“Go friend – out, out! Into the cold! Embrace this moment, this moment, this! The next will be the last, perhaps the end. You have only now, friend, only now to make it count. And do so, for me, if only for me, for he who has lost so much at the service of finding the seconds. I dream of moments like yours, with the anticipation of victory. Find her, love her, and make her yours, and make yourself hers!”

This was how he talked. He would ramble on, full of emotion and grandeur after three or four at the bar. He was a good friend, James, the kind of friend I could rely on. He gave good advice, even if he was an idealistic fool. He lived in the moment. He was Shakespeare given temporal reality and form.

And I did follow his advice. I ran, maybe, stumbling a little from the alcohol and the cold, out into the evening which was born of sweat and anticipation and a thousand dreams broken in the middle by the antidote of morning. She was out there, alive as a sculpture, born of marble and sweat, and I wanted her to be mine. I wanted her to bathe in the shower of my admiration. I as vibrant as a snowstorm as I ripped through the February evening, dreaming of a welcome port in the storm.

I loved you, I think. I don’t know anymore. What is love? Modernity has made it such a tricky art, to love one another. To wholly endulge in one another. I have thought of you often, and know that you have most certainly moved on to other bodies with stronger limbs and stronger minds and stronger emotions, but I think of you still. When the night is quiet and I am alone, I have thought of you, and your heartbeat, and your hands. I have thought of your smile, and your manners, and your ways.

I am too sentimental, now, I think, to be writing this letter. We left on good terms, I think. I left on good terms. You didn’t leave. I left you. That’s how it worked, right? With me and you, and me, and you. And the twain shall never meet.

The night was, of course, a thing of legends. As I plunged headlong through the streets the evening became something created out of the rage of hormones and emotion and longing which plunged through my bloodstream to create an absolute desire for her being. My friend had filled me with an irrational longing, an emotion born of poetry which brought me to a new height of expression. It was as if I had never been without her. I felt my blood to be alive without me, free and floating in a mist of warmth roughly approximating a body as I dashed through the streets and tunnels to her home.

It was a wondrous thing, and I too became a wondrous thing, to know that I was far away and yet only so far away, such that I could savor the thought of being there, the thought of arriving upon her threshold to declare my emotion from her. It was an amazing thing to be prescient of the moment and separate from it, to savor the taste like a liquor.

I drove that wedge on purpose. Drove it right through the center of things, to make it more difficult for you to hurt me. But I must’ve hurt you. And you must’ve known that I would hurt as well, though you were strong at the time. So strong that I can’t know how I ever withstood you, to think, me, small and fragile, next to your strength. That is the stuff of fairytales.

But we are both the losers here, moving beyond the love we had. How sad it is to think that we have both lost and neither gained. Though I have no known you in these passing months I can only guess that you have felt the same as I, the sense of loss mixed with a new exuberance over the possibilities which our new arrangement affords us both.

And on her doorstep it was no less than bliss, no less than the complete and total sublimation of religious and venial ecstasy combined to form a complete harmony of body and spirit as I waited to knock, or perhaps to ring, unsure of the proper etiquette to perform when one is in love, truly, deeply in love. I knew standing there that there could be no other existence than to stand upon her threshold waiting for the grace of her presence, sleepy and drowsy since I had waited until early in the morning to have my revelation. But when she did emerge it was as God may have made the revelation unto man, to say that nothing had been as good as this before, to say that this was the epiphany of emotion, and that no further experience could perhaps equate to the raw unbridled beauty of this.

And she brought me inside, and that was perfection itself, to be brought in with the carriage of feeling behind me, behind me the thought and feeling of an evening’s drunkness. I could’ve dreamt of her, there, in her foyer sleeping a inebriated slumber, imagining her, but she was as real as the earth or the stone.

But we have both moved on, and I am sorry for that. I wish that we were different, somehow, that things could’ve worked between us, that we could’ve bled the same blood and saved ourselves from the quiet destruction of loneliness.

Goodbye, now. For now and forever, Goodbye. I wish you only the best things, I swear this. Upon the last I have, I swear this. I have nothing else to give but my word. Even this may not be enough for you, but know that with the last I have I hope for you.

And laying there with her I dreamt ever dream I had ever had, amidst her sheets and warmth. Her person all around us in her home. I could feel her breathing though I could not hear it through the beating of my own heart within my ear drums. It was a thing of beauty, to know her then, to be alone with her. With the lights off it seemed that we gave off our own spectral illumination. The night burned long with excesses of our passion and the very stars gleamed with envy that we had bested them.

We left it alone, then, our emotional content adrift for the evening. There was no more emotion where we were. We were our own, free of things. We had gone beyond the boundary. And there we were, quiet underneath the sheets. Quiet, always quiet, the pulsing rush of emotions silenced by sex and fatigue and love. We were in love then, silent and in love. The best way, in love. We were immortal.

This is the greatest of things, to live in the moment. To know only ourselves for the moment, and therefore maybe to know the ones we love. Maybe to be made immortal through the ones we love. Maybe it’s best that way, to only live through our love for others. Maybe we should be remembered to be the best of ourselves. Better than to not be remembered at all. That is the gift I give you, friend, the gift of love. To say that I love you and that you may love, that you should love, that you should go forward and know your own love as you will know the sunrise and the sunset till the last of your days. I give you the gift of knowledge, to say that you might live beyond your years. Go forth, go, out into the world. Go beyond this brotherhood that we share. Go and know God, and know glory, and know yourself and the world, for that is all you will ever have before you perish. I wish you the best. I hope and pray for the best, as I hope you pray for my best.”

This was how he talked.

Thoughts on 14 February

For most of my life, this holiday has lingered above me like a grey cloud waiting to burst open and piss down rain at any moment. I’ve never liked Valentines Day. This goes beyond my lifelong general dislike of all things pink (which over recent years has faded). It is deeper than my loathing for the corporate scheme that is everything cupid related. I could even go as far as to say it’s more than just my inability to understand why we celebrate a martyred saint with roses and big red smiley hearts. I dislike Valentines Day because it’s a blatant slap in the face to everyone out there who doesn’t have anyone.

Do we honestly need a day to remind people that they are alone?

Every year, as New Years passes and we come around into the weeks leading up to that horrid holiday filled with chocolates and gooeyness, I cringe. I usually try to ignore it, but it’s everywhere. Cards, balloons, hallmark greetings chasing after me at every turn. Even the years I had someone to “share” the day with, it was enough to make me want to lock myself away for a few weeks and hope February passed without knocking on my door.

In my past experience, Valentines Day was nothing but a reminder that: a. I’m alone, or b. My relationship is failing. In the past, exes only brought me flowers when they’d done something to hurt me. I only received cards on holidays when I reminded them. This usually came in the form of my giving them a card, them getting that old “oh shit, I forgot” look, and three hours later being “surprised” with my card…and a flower. With that, flowers took on a negative connotation, and eventually I stopped buying cards.

Of course, I am not alone in these circumstances. Many a friend has shared the same disappointment, the same let down.

Valentines Day is never what we have been told it’s supposed to be.

And that aside, why should there only be one day set aside for people who do have someone to express how they feel? We do not need the assistance of the big corporate monster to show our love for others, nor should it be limited to a single day that is set up by powers out of our control. We should show and tell the people we love that we love them every day. Not just 14 February.

So now we have left 2004, and started 2005. The stores are filling up with those smiling naked cherubs, those huge tacky hearts. All there to reassure us that this is the day it’s ok to tell someone we love them. This is the day that it’s not ok to be alone.

Every time I walk through the city centre, I feel that familiar feeling of wanting to run off and hide. Perhaps curl up in pyjamas with my favourite group of girl friends and a couple bottles of wine and watch Sex and the City. Again, we of the female sorts start our moaning, our cringing, our hoping we can get through the next month without too many kicks to the groin, as it were.

Maybe someday it will be different. Maybe someday we’ll learn to ignore it. Whatever happens, one thing is for certain: It will not just disappear.

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