Monday, February 14, 2011

Lover Boy

As you might have guessed by now, I am a romantic at heart. And what better day to be a romantic than Saint Valentine's Day? Hey, did you know that our modern Valentine's Day is thought to have originated before the time of Christ? Yeah, the Romans (who put the rome in romantic) celebrated a pagan holiday around this time of year called Lupercalia, paying homage to the god Lupercus. Lupercus was the Roman equivalent of the Greek god Pan, or god of shepherds. You know, the goat guy? Anyway, Lupercus's temple, Lupercalia, was dedicated with the sacrifice of two goats and a dog on February 15. So what's this got to do with chocolates and flowers? I'm getting to that part, just bear with me...

So anyway, the tradition of Lupercalia came to replace the original springtime festival of Februa, from which February's name is derived. And like most springtime observances, once appropriate thanks and praise were given for a successful planting and harvest to follow, thoughts turned to lovey-dovey. Now I know this sounds a bit undemocratic to our modern sensibilities, but it was seen as a vitally important time of year to find suitable mates for young men coming of age (14 or 15 years old). So what could be more egalitarian than a lottery? That's right, the names of all the teenage girls in town were placed in a box, and the young men drew blindly to choose a sexual partner for the remainder of the year. Ahhhh, young love. Not surprisingly, this was a wildly popular holiday among the young men of the Roman Empire and was anticipated perennially in the way that the reporting of pitchers and catchers to spring training is today, and probably quite a bit more so.

But all good things must come to an end, and with the rise of Christianity, the Catholic church set out to claim, change, or outright destroy pagan celebrations. And as you might imagine, they had their own ideas about how to get young lovers paired up, and it didn't involve any goat gods. They changed the lottery to a box of saints names and both men and women got to draw from it - which was a step in the right direction in terms of equality. For the remainder of the year they were to try to emulate that saint in deeds and actions, in the hopes that God would find this favorable. Talk about a buzz kill. Understandably, this "re-brand" wasn't nearly as popular with the young male population, and Lupercalia persisted. So like all good public relations campaigns, the church decided they needed to put a new face on the celebration - a spokesman if you will. Enter, Saint Valentine.

Now believe it or not, there were so many saints named Valentine (Valentius, actually) from this era, that no one is really sure which one the holiday commemorates. Are you kidding me?! I've never met a Valentine in my life. Anyway, the prevailing sentiment is that it was the Valentine who was stoned and beheaded (talk about overkill) in AD 270 by Emperor Claudius. You see, Claudius determined that married men made lousy soldiers, which makes a fair amount of sense when you think about it. But in a rather draconian and short-sighted edict, he banned marriage in the Empire. Valentine (a Christian), would secretly marry young couples, and for a time was able to keep it from the Emperor, who remained a pagan in defiance of the church. But word got back to Claudius and Valentine was summoned for a little chat with the boss. Now I already told you how that worked out for Valentine, but during his imprisonment he worked to convert Claudius to Christianity. It didn't work, but it bought him enough time to fall in love with the daughter of his jailor, or so the legend goes. On the day of his execution, Valentine left a note for his new love with the simple words "From your Valentine". This is thought to be the first Valentine's Day card. So the Christians got their man, and the practice of Lupercalia faded away. But the tradition of passing love notes and other signs of affection on the 14th of February remains a western tradition unrestrained by religious boundaries. In fact, the Catholic church officially removed it as a religious observance in 1969 - the summer of love.

Well, I am off to pick up a bottle of Cocoa Di Vine. Have you heard about this stuff? It's a blend of pure milk chocolate and Torrontes, Pedro Ximenez, and Moscato wines. That's right, chocolate wine. And at 14% alcohol, you and your sweetie can get your chocolate fix with a little something extra to boot. Can bacon beer be very far off?

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