Thursday, February 14, 2008

Not a lot of love to go around for Valentine’s Day

It seems lots of people, not just singles and charter members of the Lonely Hearts Club, have reasons to hate Feb. 14.

Some reasons are better than others. A quick search of the week’s headlines turned up several stories from the Middle East. As you might guess, it turns out that the terrorists actually hate us because of Valentine’s Day.

OK, it’s not really “the terrorists,” but they’re probably not happy, either.

Ahead of America’s annual orgy of romance, chocolates and greeting cards, some Muslim countries are making sure no one within their borders gets too amorous.

Fox News reports that in Kuwait, the nation American troops “liberated” during the first President Bush’s administration, the head of the National Assembly’s Committee Monitoring Negative Alien Practices is looking to suppress Valentine’s Day, blaming it for spreading corruption among Kuwaiti youths.

In Saudi Arabia, the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice has ordered florists and gift shops to remove red roses, along with anything else colored scarlet, according to a Reuters news report. Apparently, Saudi religious authorities see red at the prospect of anyone else seeing red.

Perhaps Islamic fundamentalists would look upon the holiday more kindly if its true meaning hadn’t been lost.

St. Valentine was a Roman priest who was beaten and beheaded in the year 269, or thereabouts. And there’s nothing particularly romantic about that. Valentine’s Day didn’t come to be associated with love until the Middle Ages. In fact, the earliest link between St. Valentine and romance is probably a poem by Geoffrey Chaucer.

Yes, that’s the same Chaucer whose “Canterbury Tales” is now the bane of most English-speaking high school students. Evidently, he has much for which to answer.

Like many modern holidays, Valentine’s Day may have originated as a pagan festival. The ancient Romans, for example, celebrated a fertility festival, called Lupercalia, from Feb. 13 through Feb. 15. Not that ancient fertility rites had much to do with romance.

Of course, I’m not convinced that Valentine’s Day as Americans celebrate it has a lot to do with romance, either. There are too many obligations involved.

Cards, flowers, expensive dinners and boxes of candy — all given in accordance with a day on the calendar — do little to show genuine affection. They’re expected. Try not giving your significant other a gift for Valentine’s Day, and you’ll see just what I mean. There certainly won’t be any fertility rites in your immediate future.

But I’m not picking on women for expecting roses and heart-shaped boxes from their husbands and boyfriends. Men expect something on Valentine’s Day, too.

I’m sure my female readers will agree that they’re expected to be, shall we say, extremely grateful for all of the tokens of the holiday that they receive from the men in their lives.

Valentine’s Day is like a primitive mating ritual that refuses to go away, even after you’re married. Showy displays of flowers and candy are like the colorful feathers male birds use to lure female birds into their nests. But birds don’t really care about such things after the deal has been sealed.

Humans, however, have long memories. And some of us like to keep on reliving those mating rituals because they were a lot more fun than what followed.

So, this year, as we do every year, we all celebrate Valentine’s Day, either by going through the obligatory motions or by complaining about going through the motions.

Even singles celebrate it, mostly by moping about the fact that they’re not celebrating it with anyone.

On second thought, maybe Valentine’s Day is rather like getting beaten up and having your head chopped off.

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