warning: ancient ceremonial animal sacrifice, hetero-normative language
How do you feel on Valentines Day? What influences how you feel? For me, the answers to these questions are greatly impacted by where I am in life.
I have found Valentine’s Day isolating, depressing, an excuse to numb with friends and I have deep yearnings to feel cared for regardless of relationship status. I do like someone expressing their care for me through surprises that signify thinking of me without prompting which I think is not always easy to admit. However, what is Valentines in connection to this simple human need to feel thought of? And why is it so easy to feel a sense of failure for not adhering to its expectations of us?
The history of Valentines Day‘s is described as mysterious but I suspect various sources were combined for financial gain due to my research in writing this blog for you, as well as, the shared sense of external pressure to express love through consumption we all have felt. My intention here is not to also shame folks who enjoy valentines day and have a pleasant experience, instead I hope to offer some context that may lead to a different perspective or at least relieve some pressure for day that can be difficult .
One of the sources lined to Valentines day as we know it today date back to 44 BC through a pagan festival (like a bunch of our american/christian holidays) known as Lupercalia. This was a fertility festival celebrated February 15 dedicated to Roman founders. The festival included gathering in a sacred cave to sacrifice a goat for fertility and a dog for purification. The goat blood was placed on male foreheads and washed off with goats blood. The pelt of the goat was ripped into strips to be dipped in the goat blood to slap on the face on women who willingly gathered in the village to fill up the years hope for fertility. The same hopeful women were said to put their names in an urn to be pulled by bachelors to be paired with for a year in the possibility of coupling.
I found three possible stories of Saint Valentine’s connected to the Valentines Day origin: (1) Valentine was a “rebellious” priest in Rome who was executed for conducting marriages after they were outlawed in order for single men to focus on being a soldier. I enjoy a good story of going against the “man” for support of the people but I can’t help be see the upholding of gender-norms and lack of queer folks (or anyone non-white & christian in these stories). (2) This Valentine was a bishop beheaded by the same ruler who outlawed marriage, for staging a prison break for fellow christians in harsh Roman prisons subjected to abuse and torture. (3) Our last Valentine was himself imprisoned said to have sent a letter to his jailers daughter signed “your valentine”.
The Catholic Church chose February 14th to celebrate at least one of these “martyred Valentine by Pope Gelasius in the late fifth century.”
The third part of this creating Valentines Day story comes from the romance discussed in a poem by Geoffrey Chaucer called, “The parliament of Foules” and Shakespeare’s mention of Valentines day in Hamlet. “To-morrow is saint Valentines day, all the morning bedtime, And I a maid at your window, To be your Valentine.”
Today, in the US, Valentines day is associated with jewelry, flowers, dining, cards, poems, elaborate expensive gifts. It is the fourth most lucrative event on the retail calendar each year. I know when I worked as a florist in Northern California, we referred to this day as “floral carnage” and needed a day to recover after the amount of work we completed. Retail prices on these specific items tend to go up in the weeks lead to this “day of love“. “The average American consumer will spend approximately one-hundred-sixty two dollars to celebrate. The advertising becomes more gendered not leaving a lot of space for those of us who do not fit into the box provided. And, the cards associated with Valentines day have racist caricature origins I won’t repeat here.
For a lot of us, if we are not coupled, we feel unwanted and in a relationship we can feel pressure to meet impossible external expectations for a social norm we may not even see ourselves in.
Some places around the world have banned the celebration of Valentines day, while others allow it but don’t encourage it. These practices tend to contradict religious aspects of the holiday’s religious origin while also promoting Western values.
I want to push back on these “western values” without demeaning it to feel better or ignoring how it makes us feel to exist in this society with such social norms. Instead, what parts of this day (valentines day/February 14th) do you value? Where do you see yourself in it? If nowhere, how do you envision a day of love that feels true for you? Is it just romantic love you want to celebrate? How do we celebrate a day of love that isn’t transactional? How do we include everyone?
she/they, queer artist
Library Peer Ambassador