National holidays are, nowadays, increasingly celebrations of abstract concepts. Christmas is a celebration of ‘peace’, Halloween is a celebration of ‘fear’, Thanksgiving is a celebration of... well, ‘thanksgiving’, and Valentine’s Day is a celebration of ‘love’. Insofar as these concepts can be worshipped, we do so on these days rather than worshipping the actual or mythical figures that the holidays originally represented.
This is probably because there is no mythical figure to celebrate on Valentine’s Day, apart from fat Mini-Cupid clones which adorn greeting cards across the land and are not cherubs. Geoffrey Chaucer first made Valentine’s Day a celebration of love since in reality Saint Valentine was just some dude who got killed for his religion like thousands upon thousands of other people throughout history. The whole affair which must cost vast amounts of money worldwide could stem from two simple lines about cheesing makes (choosing mates):
For this was on seynt Volantynys day
Whan euery bryd comyth there to chese his make.
February 14th first became associated with love around 1400 to coincide with the Roman festivals of fertility on February 15th because Western Europeans were jealous that those around the Mediterranean were having so much fun (and in fact most still are jealous). Eventually, in keeping with what humans do, banal stories and tales have built up around the day and elevated to the position of sovereign scripture, ultimately leading from what was originally a day only given importance by the Catholic Church and Chaucer, to a day where people are expected to get some token of appreciation for someone who they hold dear and ostracised if they don’t conform. Society took a short step from an arbitrary day in winter to a strict set of rules regarding social conduct on February 14th for anyone in a relationship.
So tomorrow people will celebrate ‘love’; a single name for a large group of emotions. The love between a man and a woman is apparently the same in the English language as the love between a man and his iPod (which, believe me, can run deeper than the rivulets of fire beneath the earth’s pristine crust). People will buy cards, listen to Steve Wright play some love songs, and make fools of themselves reaching for an abstract concept which, by now, has been made into a glamorised ideal far beyond the reach of mortal human. Life is not like ‘Friends’ and yet every February 14th that seems to be the lives people desperately yearn for.
Why don’t we have any holidays for important abstract concepts like ‘consciousness’ or ‘justice’ or ‘minotaurs’? “Happy Minotaur Day”, people would cry, feasting in the evening on beef and then gathering to watch the tale of Theseus enacted by claymation puppets on BBC One with Ronnie Corbett as the voice of the bumbling King Minos. You could anonymously send a bull’s horn (or synthetic bull’s horn) to someone as an expression of disdain and desire for them to be gored. People could ominously announce they’ve “got the horn”. That would be an awesome day; certainly no less arbitrary than Valentine’s Day.