As you undoubtedly know, Friday is Valentine's Day. Those of you who didn't know or had forgotten (that's right, guys, I'm talkin' 'bout you!), consider yourselves lucky. You just got a two-day warning. Plenty of time to order flowers or pick out a nice gift for your special someone. Don't let it slip by and then try to appease her with the old line, "But honey, every day is Valentine's Day when I'm with you!"
My late husband used that line every year. In our 23 years together, he never got me anything for Valentine's Day. I'd say, "Well, if every day is Valentine's Day, shouldn't you be bringing me chocolates and roses every day?" Then he'd trot out the argument that Valentine's Day is a commercialized, made-up holiday, invented to sell greeting cards and such to sentimental fools like me. That excuse didn't work any better than the first one. But it did arouse my curiosity.
Who was St. Valentine, anyway? Turns out there are at least three different saints by that name; legend has it that all three were martyred on Feb. 14 of different years. Pope Gelasius I, near the end of the fifth century, declared the date to be a Christian feast day, St. Valentine's Day. Most scholars believe the Valentine he meant to honor was a third-century priest who defied Roman emperor Claudius II. Claudius, believing that single men made better soldiers, outlawed marriage for young men. The sympathetic priest continued to secretly marry young couples until he was discovered and put to death.
It wasn't until the 14th century that the day became associated with romance. Chaucer is generally credited with making the first reference in his poem "The Parliament of Fowls."
For this was on St. Valentine's Day,
When every fowl cometh there to choose his mate.
From the Middle Ages to the 18th century, handwritten notes and tokens of affection were exchanged by lovers in England. By the time the practice spread to America, traditional valentines were handmade cards, decorated with lace and ribbons. The oldest valentine still in existence was written in 1415 by the Duke of Orleans to his wife while he was imprisoned in the Tower of London. The poem is now part of the manuscript collection at London's British Museum.
In the 1840s, Esther A. Howland of Massachusetts began selling the first mass-produced Valentine's Day cards in the United States. You know the rest of the story. According to the Greeting Card Association, 1 billion Valentine's Day cards will be sold this year. It's the second-biggest card-giving occasion of the year, behind Christmas.
Nobody sends cards on Singles Awareness Day (SAD), which is celebrated on Feb. 15. According to the website singlesawareness.com, the day was established by single folks who were fed up with the whole Valentine's Day hoopla and tired of feeling left out. So they encourage singles to proudly stand up and shout that it's OK to be single!
SAD started out as an alternative celebration on Feb. 14, but I guess sharing the day with a billion card-sending lovers turned out to be just too . . . sad. Another reason given for moving the day to the 15th was to protest the commercialization of Valentine's Day. The site suggests celebrating SAD by sending flowers to yourself or organizing a party for your single friends, although, it seems to me that sending flowers contradicts their stated anti-commercialism. The party idea sounds good, though. Other suggestions from the SAD movement include volunteering for the day, traveling, going to the movies, anything that makes you feel good and perhaps distracts you from loneliness.
Happily, although Friday will be my sixth Valentine's Day alone, loneliness has not been an issue for me. And as I told you earlier, even when my husband was alive, I never got a valentine from him. To his credit, however, he did leave me an occasional handwritten note. Never on Valentine's Day, of course. That would have ruined his argument and proved him to be more sentimental than he cared to admit.
I, on the other hand, freely admit to being sentimental. And now that I've learned about SAD, I plan to celebrate both days with dinner and dancing on my own. And chocolate. I'm definitely buying myself some chocolate. After all, every day is chocolate day.
* Kathy Collins is a performance artist, broadcaster and freelance writer whose "Sharing Mana'o" column appears every Wednesday. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.