“The course of true love never did run smooth,” Shakespeare aptly said in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. And if there is one thing we learn through the vicissitudes of life, it’s that love is not a simple matter.
That’s why, as the fateful date of February 14 approaches, loneliness and social pressure seem to take the edge off what should be — cliché though it may sound — an everyday celebration.
To deconstruct a bit the myth of a single annual celebration, we wanted to refresh your memory on five facts that many don’t know about Valentine’s Day celebrations.
The God and the Bloody Feast
If you’ve ever wondered why the “day of love” is celebrated precisely on February 14, the ancient Romans can give you the answer. The ancient civilization celebrated a brutal feast between February 13 and 15 under the name of Lupercalia, where men sacrificed a goat and a dog and then whipped the women with the skins of the animals they had just killed.
As historian Noel Lenski told NPR, young women would line up to be beaten by the men because they believed this “would make them fertile.”
However, the association with the name Valentine came when Emperor Claudius II executed two men with the same name on February 14 of different years in the third century AD.
The conquest of Christianity, and its insistence on transforming Roman ephemeris into symbols of the new age, led Pope Gelasius I to combine Valentine’s Day with Lupercalia to expel rituals they called “pagan.”
Letters from Prison
As History recounts, the earliest record of a Valentine’s Day letter is unromantic, to say the least. It was written by Charles, Duke of Orleans, to his wife, from the prison where he was held captive for 20 years after the Battle of Agincourt. The poem dates from the early 15th century.
Forget Platonic Love
Much of the celebration of Valentine’s Day centers on getting (conquering) that impossible love. For decades, unrequited love has been called Platonic Love, thanks to the misrepresentation of a philosophical concept far from the feast of pink hearts.
The name comes from the Greek philosopher Plato — who never used the term. Plato’s concept of love consists of personal growth toward wisdom and true beauty, bypassing carnal attraction, and focusing on the attraction of souls — what Plato called “union with truth.”
In his dialogue “The Symposium,” Plato explains the evolution of feeling and conceptualizes love as the inspiration of the mind.
A Costly Love
Far from what Plato posited, the celebration of Valentine’s Day in the U.S. is a multi-billion dollar industry that has been on the rise over the past few years.
According to figures from Statista, Americans are expected to spend approximately $22 billion this year — down nearly $6 billion from 2020.
Life Is Like a Box of Chocolates
Forrest Gump’s famous quote is no less appropriate for our attempt to deconstruct a celebration that can even become toxic.
This is a time to remember and share with our closest ones the plurality of love and get rid of the old patterns that have put so much pressure on our sentimental life.
According to specialists, the best way to fight anxiety and depression — often exacerbated at this time of year — is to transform our concept of love and its celebration accordingly, starting with ourselves.
Get up late, eat that favorite dish, buy yourself a record for the collection, or that pair of pants you’ve been putting off for months. After all, the world no longer revolves around chocolate hearts but on our ability to know how to live with ourselves.