SORRY to disturb you while you are probably still opening your sack of Valentine cards, but I thought I should point out that this is not just a day devoted to young lovers. Or old lovers, for that matter. Or even lovers of indeterminate age.
This is also, by amazing coincidence, National Impotence Day, Congenital Heart Defect Day, Contraceptive Awareness Week and International Flirting Week and if you can’t flirt around Valentine’s Day, when can you flirt?
And wait, there’s more of these awareness days from America, the land of marketing opportunity, where this is also National Mend A Broken Heart Month, Have A Heart Day and Quirky Home Alone Day for those without any romance at all in their lives.
“No, don’t me ask me out. I shall stay home alone and catalogue my toe-nail collection.”
For our cousins across the pond, this is also National Secondhand Wardrobe Week (which promotes buying secondhand clothes, not wardrobes), the rather mundane Avocado and Banana Month and the International Boost Self Esteem Month, which runs concurrently with the International Expect Success Month. These are two ideals that I would not have lumped together for the risk of disappointment.
Then there are the more esoteric Marijuana Awareness Month, Return Shopping Carts to the Supermarket Month and Pull Your Sofa Off The Wall Month, which might refer to people who have no awareness of the effects of marijuana.
So, all in all, this is a busy day, week and month that St Valentine has to share. Except that there isn’t really a Saint Valentine.
Well, not a historically identifiable person who helped young lovers. Legend says he became a saint because he was martyred for marrying Christian couples in pagan Rome. But really, this is just hearsay.
He only gets a vague mention in the list of Roman martyrs in 496 when he was among those “whose names are justly reverenced among men, but whose acts are known only to God.”
So, nothing known then. But his reputation has grown since Geoffrey Chaucer first mentioned Valentine’s Day being a medieval time of romance in 1382. The concept of a day for lovers really became popular in the 19th century and, since then, everyone has sent anonymous cards and given flowers to their loved ones and don’t you dare forget.
The date of February 14 actually coincides with the Ancient Roman fertility festival of Lupercalia when, according to Plutarch, “Many of the noble youths and the magistrates run up and down through the city naked, for sport and laughter, striking those they meet with shaggy thongs.”
Ladies, apparently, would line up to be struck, believing the custom would aid pregnancy.
Somehow, I can’t see Lupercalia making a comeback any time soon. Particularly not in Huddersfield in February in weather cold enough to shrink any thong.
The Pope banned Lupercalia in the fifth century, by the way, about the time Valentine’s Day got a mention. The Christian Church was good at imposing religious days on what had previously been pagan celebrations, so perhaps the fertility lingers on. The romance certainly does.