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Love is in the air

There are not many middle-of-the-roaders when it comes to Valentine's Day. Feb. 14 either represents cards, flowers, jewelry, gifts and other romantic notions -- or it sends you fleeing for cover.

Scorn it or adore it, but today's version of the holiday is nothing like it used to be.

According to legend, and the History Channel, ancient Romans used to celebrate the feast of Lupercalia in mid-February. Men sacrificed goats and dogs, skinned them, and ran around smacking women with the hides. Believing such love taps resulted in increased fertility, women reportedly didn't mind the practice.

Match-making apparently had a role in this festival as well, with men drawing women's names in a lottery system that would match the pair for a year. Pope Gelasius I amended this part of Lupercalia by having both young men and women draw the names of saints they were supposed to emulate for a year.

There are many Catholic roots in the St. Valentine's holiday, going beyond Pope Valentine, who history can't seem to recall other than he served 40 days before dying somewhere around A.D. 827.

During the reign of Emporer Claudius II in the 3rd century, the Roman leader had two men named Valentine executed. One was a temple priest who was beheaded for helping Christian couples get married. The other was the Bishop of Terni, whose crime and method of execution remain mysterious. Both were declared martyrs. The official roster of Roman Catholic saints has approximately 12 who were named Valentine or something similar. Continued confusion over the authentic St. Valentine and the origins of St. Valentine's Day led the Catholic Church in 1969 to discontinue honoring him officially.

The modern holiday celebrated Feb. 14 is a feast of consumerism. It is estimated approximately $20 billion is spent on Valentine's Day in the United States. The average person spends more than $130. Some 224 million roses are grown for the holiday, and 151 million cards are exchanged.

Approximately 6 million individuals will be asked, "Will you marry me?" today. American lovebirds generally stay together much longer than participants in the former Lupercalia. The average length of marriage in this country is eight years, a number that has held steady for decades.

At least you shouldn't have to be struck with a goat hide. Happy Valentine's Day.

Editorial by Patrick Lowry

plowry@dailynews.net