What holiday is less connected to its historical roots than Valentine's Day? Jesus gets a strong shout-out here and there on his birthday. President's Day may be the perfect occasion for an underwear sale, but at least Washington's face graces the newspaper ads. Even Punxsutawney Phil got a movie deal.
But where is St. Valentine? Weeks before February 14, local stores celebrate enthusiastically with cheap jewelry, heart-shaped placemats, heart-themed pajamas, and enough chocolate to keep dentists busy through 2020 -- yet Valentine himself is treated more like Voldemort.
The poor guy can't even catch any controversy. Nobody appears on Bill O'Reilly's show decrying the "War on St. Valentine." While public schools wring their hands about Halloween and Christmas, cutting symmetrical hearts from folded red construction paper is as much an American classroom tradition as doodling on your notebook and picking your nose.
It's even a-ok to decorate the walls with underage, semi-naked predators, armed to the gums with bows and sharp projectiles. (And you thought Miley Cyrus sent a bad message).
The wide-ranging themes of school punch-out valentine cards best illustrates the modern disconnect between Valentine's Day and anything even remotely romantic. At one Target store, I saw Spiderman valentines, Darth Vader-themed valentine chocolates, and military camouflage tattoo valentines. Apparently, nothing says "I love you" more than tattooing your sweetie's hand with a green army bazooka.
Some people even think Valentine's Day was manufactured by greedy card companies, much like "Buy a Card From a Greedy Card Company Day," which never really took off.
Many women see no coincidence in the fact that Valentine's Day occurs only weeks after Super Bowl Sunday. Their explanation: Payback. Most men know this as well, so the card industry supplies them with myriad variations on the theme:
"Dear, I've been a pretty mediocre mate for many months now and ignored you completely while watching men tackle each other between beer commercials, so here's a pop-up card with two chimpanzees making out and my name scribbled underneath. Umm, can we have a 'date night' now?"
The needlessly-kept secret is that actual Valentine's Day lore is rich with sacrifice, generosity, and blind love. Think Braveheart meets When Harry Met Sally, minus fake accents and orgasms. The story goes something like this:
Around the year 270, Emperor Claudius II banned marriages because he decided single men made better soldiers than married men. (It's understandable because single men can use both their hands for fighting, whereas married men always need one hand free to hold the remote.)
Well, a third-century priest named Valentine thought that was pretty bogus, and started performing illegal marriages waaaaaaay before performing illegal marriages became all the rage. (Take that, San Francisco!)
Valentine, "friend of lovers," got tossed in the slammer for his trouble, but met a charming young blind woman (as is often the case with the newly-incarcerated). He miraculously healed her blindness, after which the girl immediately exclaimed, "Hey, I thought you said you looked like George Clooney!"
Unfazed, he wrote her a farewell message, signed: "from your Valentine". The phrase stuck with us forever. Not so everlasting was Val, who was executed on February 24, 270.
This paved the way to Patron Sainthood, and "Saint Valentine" became the inspiration for a February 14 Roman festival during which young Romans wrote affectionate greetings to girls they liked or simply wished to enslave. This went on for hundreds of years until "St. Hallmark of the Mall" appeared on the scene, charged a couple of bucks for foldable cardboard, and reduced every tender thought between romantic couples into trite rhyming couplets. The rest is history. For more details, check out VH-1's I Love the 270's!
In a typical parental mission to replace ignorance with embellished truth, I shared the story with my kids, making St. Valentine a Jedi Knight and the blind girl a beautiful princess. The loving couple didn't die, but retired to Florida where they spent their final days playing shuffleboard and testing Whitman's Samplers.
As for me, I'm inspired to spend V-Day doing what Val would have done: Simply spending quality, TV-free time with the one I love... and buying her some shiny things. Hey, I may be romantic, but I'm no idiot.
If all goes well, I may also bring sight to a couple of blind people just for the heck of it.