Pagan celebration breeds indulgence

Friends, family, lovers splurge more on Valentine’s Day gifts each year despite festival’s ‘questionable’ history of animal cruelty, nudity and orgies

By Rob Clinton, Sports Editor

To some it is a Hallmark holiday, a remnant of a time past but carried on to bilk the gullible public out of millions of dollars every year. To others, it is an opportunity to express the depths of one’s love in a concentrated effort every Feb. 14.

Whether symbolized by half naked babies firing passion dipped arrows or by the 190 million cards exchanged every year (according to the greeting card association), Saint Valentine’s Day has evolved from its questionable roots.

Two schools of thought govern the origin of what we now know as Saint Valentine’s Day.

The first is that the day is fostered from Lupercalia, a lively sexual Roman Catholic festival that took place Feb. 13-15 centering on fertility.

In the festival, participants sacrificed a dog and a goat as young men and women stripped naked. Then, the men would flog the women with the animal’s hides as a gesture to bolster fertility.

The dates also coincided with what was believed to be the beginning of the mating season for local birds.

The second, and more infamous theory, involves the Roman Empire and Emperor Claudius II. In an attempt to fortify his army with fighting men, he forebode the soldiers from taking wives in hopes that their total dedication would be given to glory on the battlefield.

In total defiance of the ban, a Christian priest, St. Valentine, held clandestine marriage ceremonies to unite soldiers and the women that possessed their hearts.

When the emperor heard of the weddings he had St. Valentine imprisoned. It was in jail where the priest fell in love with the jailer’s helper, who was also the jailer’s daughter. The forbidden love earned the priest an execution sentence to be carried out on Feb. 14.

The prisoner gave one last letter to his love. And as the sword removed his head from his body she read the last line of the letter — love your Valentine.

The tradition carried on well into the Rome’s acceptance of Christianity. The church gave the people clothes but kept the themes of virility and copulation.

Since its inception, Valentine’s Day has not been all joy and pain.

In the Middle Ages young lovers drew names to determine who their Valentine would be. They would pin the name to their sleeve so that everyone would know who their love interest was to be. Thus spawned the saying “wearing your heart on your sleeve.”

From naked parties to beheadings, none of the original participants in this ancient ritual could have foreseen what kind of profit juggernauts pagan celebrations would become.

Retail spending last year reached nearly $19 billion in the U.S., with the average American spending $142.31 with only $96.63 going to a spouse or significant other, according to the National Retail Federation.

Fifty-eight percent of Americans are planning to buy for other family members, while a disturbing 21.2 percent plan on shopping for a Valentine’s Day gift for their pet.

Flowers still top the list as the most sought after gift, in particular the red rose.

Historically known as the favorite flower of Venus, the Roman goddess of love, its bud stands for strong romantic feelings, keeping it tops on the list of most sought after adornment for Valentine’s Day bouquets.

But to the average participant the real question has to be what defines love. Is it sex drive, romantic love, passion or the calmness and security of being in a long-term relationship?

In any case, love is displayed through gifts as 47 percent of American consumers spend roughly $1 billion every Valentine’s Day. And 75 percent of that revenue is provided by chocolate sales — a treat that has been a symbol of love since the Aztecs thrived during the 14th and 15th century in Mexico.

The monetization of love makes dealing with matters of the heart exponentially more intense. Today, financial reasons rank just above social isolation and relationship problems as leading causes for suicide in the era of modern affairs of the heart.

With the divorce rate hovering comfortably above 50 percent, one has to wonder if dancing naked in the streets while being beaten with animal hides is a more reliable way of choosing a mate (American Psychological Association).