Friday, February 15, 2008

89; Happy Something

Let's just get rid of holidays. Anyone?

Holidays suck, and they do so for many reasons. You may dislike that most holidays have become too commercial. You may dislike that you do not share the sentiment the holiday is supposed to express. You may even dislike the historical roots from which our holidays are formed (Christmas, Valentine's, St. Patrick's, Easter and yet we claim to be a religiously tolerant country wha?).

If you squint the holidays sort of seem to correspond to the seven deadly sins. One could argue that Thanksgiving is for gluttony, Christmas for greed, Veterans day for wrath, Easter for guilt, Halloween for sugar, and Arbor day for hippiness.

Oh, and Valentine's day. For lust, obviously. Because that's what St. Valentine was all about. But wait! Just who was this guy anyway?

Well, first off, he wasn't just one guy. They know the one whose feast day we are supposed to be celebrating was buried on this day north of Rome. Except they're not sure if it was one guy or two who was buried, if they were both named Valentine, or what they did that was so special. Technically, like St. Nick, he's not even a real saint anymore, ever since 1969. Celebrating a feast for him didn't even start until 469, when our favorite Pope, Gelasius I, singled Valentine out as one of many "whose names are justly reverenced among men, but whose acts are known only to God." Which is some pretty good PR for someone whose sanctity couldn't be proven one way or the other.

We know he died. He may have died somewhere between the years 269 and 273. And he may have been a preist. Or a bishop. Or a martyr in Africa. Oh, and I didn't even get into the theories of how Valentine's is just a cover-up for that wildly popular pagan festival of Lupercalia.

And guess whose to blame for pinning the bawdy romantic love element onto this obscure person(s)? Geoffrey Chaucer. My reverence grows.

From which we end up with chocolate and greeting cards. What a mess. Two guys (probably) burried on a road outside of Rome, one maybe a bishop, the other maybe a preist, and both likely named Valentine. They don't know when these guys died, though they think they were martyrd, and it would be two hundred years until a Pope decides that this random fellow is worthy of a saint day. Which in the fourteenth century gets warped by an Englishman to reflect the interests of his times.

Basically I think this was a shrine that got out of hand. Reading through the history of the church they erected on the road, which Pope after Pope adorned and beautified, makes me think tht since this shrine was so near to Rome and was obviously popular they sanctified the guy in a hurry, and to prove they really meant it gave him a nice church, which, by 1425, was described as the church "beyond the gate without walls, [that] has no preist". It gets better, since the church (technically a basillica by this point) was built on top of ancient Christian catacombs. What's most likely is that Valentine, whoever he was, was just one of many Christians on the site, which would explain why it was so popular.

In case your interested in relics, by the way, the poor man's bones, (which they identified in the catacombs) aren't actually there anymore. They're in Ireland. Just thought you'd like to know if you were now planning a pilgrimage to his final resting place, which is now Dublin.

Writing this on Valentine's day I must confess I have a little more respect for the holiday. It's rather impressive the course history took that some guy, living somewhere, who died for his beliefs has been elevated to such a prominent position. Well, prominent in Europe and North America, at any rate.

All of this has been given as an example of why not to have holidays. Their messages and meanings, far from being universal, are warped and twisted through odd historical tales and persons. (Seriously, Chaucer? That's just so awesome.) If we question why these days are worth remembering then we often find ourselves at a loss. Not to mention the fact that many holidays aren't days at all, but moving landmarks, of course tied-in to the seasonal changes which differ yearly (most egregiously in the case of Easter.)

So you can celebrate the day if you want to. Or you can leave your friends behind. But I rather express myself when I choose, without having to make a special show of it due to a Catholic Pope thinking some dead Christian was pretty popular. That doesn't even make sense.

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