By Patrick BuffettFebruary 8, 2018
FORT LEE, Va. - This column is dedicated to our military battle buddies struggling with (ignoring, pretending to be oblivious to) Valentine's Day and the expectation of purchasing a perfect gift for the special someone in their life.
Few observances leave people wondering "How did mankind get into this predicament?" more than this one. Where is it written into law that every Feb. 14 gentlemen, ladies and googly eyed school kids have to profess their feelings for others? Is it all just a marketing ploy by retailers and restauranteurs hoping to grab a piece of the sales pie that produced a sweet $18.3 billion in 2017?
Of course, it's no surprise that today's highly commercialized version of Valentine's Day is a far cry from what historians have deduced about its dark origins.
One account - offered by Noel Lenski, a University of Colorado historian, in a 2011 National Public Radio news interview - describes the ancient Roman "Feast of Lupercalia" and a courting ritual that involved animal sacrifice and willing women lining up to be whipped with pelts in order to become fertile.
Hint: if sharing this factoid with a significant other, do not appear to be wistful, lest ye desire a lasting period of loneliness and possible therapy.
Another legend dating back to the 3rd century A.D., stems from a pair of executions ordered by Emperor Claudius II in different years but on the same date of Feb. 14. The victims were both named Valentine. In one alleged instance, the accused "man of the church" performed marriages in spite of the emperor's ban against such unions because he believed single males without families made better soldiers.
Hint: showing excitement while discussing wedlock bans and/or the unfavorable impact of married life on military careers could prove detrimental to long-term relationships.
Catholic scholars offer a story about a priest named Valentine (later proclaimed as a saint) who was sentenced to death for attempting to help Christians escape harsh Roman prisons He is said to have fallen in love with a young girl - possibly his jailor's daughter - who visited him during his confinement. Before his death, it is alleged he wrote her a letter confessing his feelings and signed "From your Valentine."
With heavy church influence in the 5th century, St. Valentine's Day celebrations are said to have evolved from drunken and naked pagan rituals to still-tipsy yet tasteful festivals that honored spring renewal and the blossoming relationships of young couples destined for matrimony and making babies. Years later, English poet Geoffrey Chaucer and playwright William Shakespeare greatly romanticized the annual tradition and handmade paper cards with admissions of adoration became the token-of-choice in the Middle Ages.
The migration of Valentine's Day to the New World was inevitable (actually, it's now celebrated in more than 20 countries). Americans can thank the industrial revolution and a company called Hallmark Cards of Kansas City, Mo., for churning out the first factory-produced greeting cards in 1913 - insert "first sales rack was set up a year earlier" joke here. With profits sure to be made, other companies soon joined the fray with everything from boxed chocolates to fresh-cut flowers, and the U.S. installment of the holiday was forever changed.
Suffice to say, the modern version of Valentine's Day does tend toward impression over expression. High-cost jewelry, reservations at the fanciest restaurant or other equally expensive testaments of love are expectations imposed by advertisers and cheeky individuals who make statements like, "You can't put a price tag on love." Certainly, there's nothing wrong with going all out for your special someone, but it doesn't have to go beyond what is economically manageable and personally meaningful.
The history of this observance tells us one thing - there is no obligation to follow conventional Valentine's Day traditions since there is no historical precedence for doing so. How anyone expresses their feelings is a choice of the heart, and the three simple words "I love you" may be the best gift of all.