By Olivia Wolpe
Valentine’s Day. These Two words evoke emotion in the hearts of people all over the world. Whether it is a heartbroken 14-year old in Australia, the 40-something divorcé in Florida, or even a happy couple here in Menton, Valentines Day makes us all think of something. For me, Valentine’s Day evokes memories of homemade cards, distributed to the entire elementary-school class; of heart-shaped cookies and the smell of roses; of a bitter holiday invented late the night of the 13th, known only to some as Voldemort’s Valentine, complete with a gang sign. And it always means chocolate (whether given by a friend or bought by my mother), lots and lots of chocolate.
We all know the scenes: the airport reunions, complete with bouquets; the water-front candle-lit dinners; the kiss beneath the magnificent Eiffel Tower. For many, this is a day of pure bliss, a day to be with the one (or the ones) that you love. For every peaceful, happy scene on February 14th, there is another polar opposite, equally as strong. Perhaps we recognize these scenes as well: the lonely diner in the midst of a busy restaurant; crumpled up tissues and the refusal to get out of bed; the feeling of a broken heart after an impossible goodbye.
Why is it that a day in the middle of February engenders such feelings? Nobody is sure. While many just credit it as the work of Hallmark and chocolate companies, the legends of St. Valentine’s Days are historical tales. Some believe the date is symbolic of the arrival of the bird’s mating season while others similarly attribute it to the arrival of spring. The root can be traced back through both Pagan and Christian history. In ancient Rome, Pagans celebrated the 14th by honoring Juno, the Queen of Roman Gods and Goddesses. Following this day is the Feast of Lupercalia (or the Fertility Festival) on February 15th. In this festival to honor the Roman Gods of Agriculture, a goat, symbolizing fertility, and a dog, symbolizing purification, are sacrificed. Boys dipped the meat into sacrificial blood and ran through the streets, slapping females with the hides, as they believed they would become more fertile. Later, women would place their name into an urn and the men would pick a name. The couple would then be paired together for a year, often resulting in love and marriage. This tradition, though altered, continues in a new shape today. In some regions, it is custom for a girl to pin the name of the one she loves on her sleeve, and vice versa.
The legendary St. Valentine states back to Rome under Emperor Claudius II, where a man named Valentine was a priest. The Emperor was finding it difficult to enlist men in the army, for they did not want to leave their wife and children. In response, Claudius II cancelled all engagements and marriages in Rome. It is said that Valentine had a romantic streak and continued to provide marriages in secret. Once the Emperor found out, however, Valentine was sentenced to death and killed on February 14th, circa 270 C.E. After his death, he was named a Saint and the day set-aside in celebration of his life. During the Middle Ages in England and France, St. Valentine became known as the patron saint of love and lovers. In this spirit, Pop Galasius declared February 14th officially St. Valentine’s Day in 492 C.E.
While most Valentine’s Days today resemble very little to those historical tales, it is easy to see where the sentiment lies. While this day, or what this day has become, leaves little room for those living neither in blissful love nor in devastating sadness, I believe that there lies a space for both of these tales. While the ideals of the two may be contradicting, this is the beauty of this day: that so many things will happen, both good and bad, yet tomorrow February 15th will be just another day of the week.
So for all of you, whether in Menton or afar, may this day at least remain a memory. Cook a delicious meal, watch your favorite movie, or maybe just finish your work at a reasonable hour. But please, for my sake and for yours, eat chocolate. Lots and lots of chocolate.