On Friday, men everywhere will say the three special words they never seem to the rest of the year: Happy Valentine’s Day. My wife and I cherish a special Valentine’s Day tradition: we ignore it.
We don’t celebrate Valentine’s for several reasons. For one thing we don’t want to be all partied out with President’s Day coming up. Second, our daughter is grossed out by displays of affection, as she fears some link between kissing and the arrival of her little brother.
Most important, what could be a stronger test of marital trust than to ignore Valentine’s Day? Talk about vulnerable! With a single carnation either of us could put the other in the doghouse for weeks.
Besides, I’ve resented Valentine’s Day ever since elementary school. Homework was hard enough without punching out thirty cardboard hearts and trying to spell my classmates’ names. The little candies with messages on them were kind of fun, but in a blind taste test you could never tell them from Rolaids.
And by sixth grade the stakes just got too high. I was lovesick for Lori Alcott, and I poured my heart out in a giant red velvet card with a lace heart. I don’t remember exactly what I wrote, but it must have been powerful, because she never again made eye contact.
At least I know whom to blame for my suffering: the Romans. They started the whole mess with Lupercalia, a fertility feast on the ides of February. They had it easy; instead of mulling over sappy rhymes at Hallmark they would just go to a cave, sacrifice a goat and a dog, and walk around whacking young women with strips of bloody goat-hide. Then all the single women would put their names in an urn. The guys would draw names to see whom they’d spend the next year with. Sure it was kind of random, but it’s a lot less barbaric than, say, the club scene.
Of course in the year 498, Pope Gelasius came along and outlawed the world’s largest key party. He thought it would be more fun to commemorate the execution of St. Valentinus by Emperor Claudius the second, who was irked at the priest for marrying young Roman men, thus making them lousy soldiers. “Sorry Claude, I’d love to slay some Visigoths, but the missus says I gotta wash the chariot tonight.” So Claudius had Valentinus bludgeoned to death and beheaded, an event we now celebrate with Whitman’s Samplers.
It wasn’t until 1415 someone got the bright idea to send a card. We can blame Charles, Duke of Orleans. Of course he had the time, being imprisoned in the Tower of London. It was only a few years until King Henry the Fifth realized you should let someone else write the stuff inside the card. History doesn’t record what poet John Lydgate wrote for the king, but I’m guessing it started, “Roses are red.”
Even if we were to celebrate Valentine’s Day, I can’t find a gift that doesn’t leave me racked with guilt. Diamonds are a girl’s best friend, but they’re also popular among the warlords of Sierra Leone, who sell them to finance their ruthless torture campaigns. Chocolate’s nice, but 40 percent of cocoa beans are grown by child slaves in the Ivory Coast. Flowers, you say? Colombia provides over 70 percent of our fresh cut flowers, and the shipments are favorite means for cocaine and heroin smuggling. Smell that rose if you want, just don’t sniff too hard.
So I guess we’ll spend this February fourteenth the way we spend most nights, sharing pizza with the kids and hoping for a new episode of SpongeBob Squarepants. There won’t be candles or champagne, but it still beats the heck out of sacrificing a goat.