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Maggie Lamond Simone

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The History of Valentine's Day, Retold

Posted: 02/12/10 07:10 AM ET

"Guess what!" I said to the husband. "I'm going to do a blog on the Huffington Post!"

He looked at me curiously. "You know that's kind of a politically-based site, right? What are you going to do next, Popular Mechanics? Maybe Cooking.com?" He was chuckling as he walked away.

"Of course I knew it was a political site," I called after him, which of course I didn't. "But they have a 'Living' section, too, and while I am not many things, I am alive!" Last words are best words -- that's what I always say.

And so today I start blogging, a task I've successfully dodged these last several years as a writer in Central New York. But I love HP, and I love Arianna's hair, and so it's time. My blogs will most likely center on words and stories accumulated over the last fifteen years as first a humor columnist and then a parenting columnist (which can still be darn funny, by the way), and of course the day to day minutiae by which are fascinated these days -- not necessarily my day-to-day minutiae, however, which struggles to reach the level of mundane.

So, welcome. Enjoy. Pull up a cup of Joe or, in my case, at the moment, a cat, and read away:

A Valentine's Tradition

Gather 'round, kids. Our very favorite holiday, Valentine's Day, is fast approaching. It's the one day we are allowed to blatantly display our love for each other, and every year Auntie Maggie takes particular delight in sharing the special story of this most romantic time. Yes, Auntie Maggie has an issue or two.

Our story begins in Rome in the year 269 A.D. Emperor Claudius wanted to build a really big army so he could prove his manhood by having other men slaughter his enemies. Unfortunately he forgot to invent the draft, and instead just asked the guys to join with the promise that, "hey, it might be fun."

Much to the emperor's chagrin, his volunteer army consisted of about zero soldiers, once again proving the theory that, given the option, people would rather live. Misreading this most basic of tenets, however, Claudius determined that men were instead, for lack of a better term, whipped. They weren't joining his army because they didn't want to leave their wives.

In a burst of classic male logic, he outlawed marriage, because obviously if a man couldn't have a wife, the next best thing would be to kill people. But he apparently overlooked the Golden Rule of the male psyche, i.e., if they can't have it, they only want it more. Or actually, maybe he invented it. Who knows. I didn't write the story. I'm just telling it.

Anyway, society was incensed at this turn of events, and an outraged young priest named Valentine continued to perform secret marriage ceremonies until he was ultimately busted by the love police and sentenced to death for the crime of condoning marriage. Parenthetically, I believe I read somewhere that this launched the now-famous "fear of commitment" thing.

While awaiting his fate in the dungeon, he was befriended by a prison guard's daughter who apparently was allowed to play down there. She supported his defiance of the emperor's edict, offering encouragement and friendship (although, strangely, no key to his cell?)

He really liked this young girl, and on the day he was scheduled to die -- February 14, so the story goes -- the priest left her a thank-you note and signed it, "Love from your Valentine." Wasn't that sweet? Then they cut off his head.

So, boys and girls, that is supposedly the origin of Valentine's Day. Pretty romantic, huh? I mean, in a "Tales From the Crypt" kind of way.

Fast forward to the 1700s, when American settlers were experiencing their first taste of the hell we affectionately refer to here as "winter." They invented Thanksgiving for November, Christmas helped pass December, and my birthday got them through Jan., but what would prevent them from going nutso in February?

"Hey, I know!" someone said. "Let's celebrate Valentine's Day, in honor of that priest whose head was lopped off because, despite the fact that he probably never had to live through it, he thought marriage was a good thing!" And that, or something like that, is how Valentine's Day came to America. Isn't that wonderful? I get goosebumps.

So you see, you don't have to be hurt or lonely if you don't have someone special to share Valentine's Day with, or if you have someone special but he or she is too dense to buy you things. It's okay. Things really could be worse.

The truth of the matter is, we're celebrating the fact that a really good man lost his life in a really disgusting way because another obviously unhappy man blamed love for other not unhappy men's lack of desire to kill. When it comes right down to it, I just don't mind not getting flowers for that.

For everyone else, those who are happily in love with people who actually remember to buy them stuff, um, hey! Happy Valentine's Day! Woohoo!

 
 
 

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