February certainly is downhill all the way, isn’t it? It starts out OK, with the Super Bowl and cool holidays like Darwin Day, but after a while the whole month just really gets to be a bear. The Rex Grossman kind, too, not the good Brian Urlacher kind. This is about the time of year that everyone starts getting tired of the snow and the ice and the cold, there aren’t any sports on but exciting mid-season basketball, and everyone’s waiting for Spring thaw and the beginning of Spring Training.
So of course the time of fastest descent happens in the middle of the month, right around the 14th. So about 1400 years ago a medieval monk and early psychologist decided it would be a great time to dub that day after himself, a rather dismal fellow most of the time, in honor of the whole month’s dreariness and despair. For this and other great deeds (including the invention of the first anti-depressant, also known as the frosted layer cake, as well as the first recorded use of the clue-by-four), he was given sainthood, and the day was henceforth named St Valentine’s Day.
This went well for several centuries, with annual celebrations coinciding with the low point of the year, until fate interfered in 1507. That year, while the festivities were under way, a Flemish merchant sold a large quantity of fresh flowers and a few hot new exports from the New World to a young man who was planning to feed the former to his goats and try to synthesize the first plastic from the latter. Unfortunately for all of us, as he was leaving the merchant’s store he came upon a comely young woman our goat farmer had known for some time, and in his awe accidentally dropped a few roses and other items at her feet. She was so taken by the apparent romantic gesture that the couple soon eloped, leaving the goats to starve.
The merchant, noticing the economic potential of selling otherwise lowly-regarded items as love tokens (at a large markup), soon started selling his stock to others who hoped to attract the objects of their affection, making a bundle in the process. This became so successful that not only did the flowers he was selling but also the imported items, a pulverized substance called chocolate and a resinous tree sap now known as latex, became symbols of romance throughout much of the world. The idea was quickly copied by many other flower sellers and importers, and since many of these people either had a large quantity of business sense (or a sick sense of irony), the biggest day for purchasing said items was Valentines Day, which was pitched as a way to try to alleviate the misery of the middle of winter, or at least get laid.
Over the years, the commercial appeal of the repurposed Valentines Day (with the apostrophe and ‘St.’ dropped in order to circumvent an intellectual property lawsuit from the Valentine estate, which had somehow continued to pay its lawyers for nearly a millennium) grew to the point where it has become a major holiday in the United States and other countries, and is worth billions of dollars to the economy.
However, there are those of us who have kept the original tradition of St Valentine alive, and not just by the liberal application of clue sticks to lusers. Today, we honor our fellow brethren, who recognize the true unluckiness of this day in the face of saccharine platitudes and the like.
In a more expository vein, here is i-Mockery’s takedown of this day, including the truth about Cupid. Mischievous doesn’t begin to describe the little winged punk.
Although the modern celebration of Valentines Day is predominantly an excuse to sell flowers and candy, the original, true St Valentine’s Day also indulged in a little gift-giving. This article in Digital Journal lists some up-to-date gifts to get in to the true spirit of the day. For the true adherent, Despair Inc., the famous creator of the Demotivator series of posters and desk accessories, brings you BitterSweets, some allegedly-flavored candy hearts with some more appropriate sayings to celebrate this most depressing of days. Flavors include “Banana Chalk, Grape Dust, Nappy-Citric, You-Call-This-Lime?, Pink Sand and Fossilized Antacid.”
So anyway, take heart, everyone. Spring will be here soon, National Pancake Day is next Tuesday, and the Cubs will soon be sucking again. Although we have to survive three more weeks of February while we’re at it.