The Evolution of a Holiday: From Executing a Priest to Being Terrified of Sex

The Evolution of a Holiday: From Executing a Priest to Being Terrified of Sex

By Don Hall

First, Happy Valentine's Day.

Second, what the fuck is Valentine's Day?

The Early Medieval act of Saint Valentine was expounded briefly in Legenda Aurea (Golden Legend). According to that version, St. Valentine was persecuted as a Christian and interrogated by Roman Emperor Claudius II in person. Claudius was impressed by Valentine and had a discussion with him, attempting to get him to convert to Roman paganism in order to save his life. Valentine refused and tried to convert Claudius to Christianity instead. Because of this, he was executed. Before his execution, he is reported to have performed a miracle by healing the blind daughter of his jailer.


Since Legenda Aurea still provided no connections whatsoever with sentimental love, appropriate lore has been embroidered in modern times to portray Valentine as a priest who refused an unattested law attributed to Roman Emperor Claudius II, allegedly ordering that young men remain single. The Emperor supposedly did this to grow his army, believing that married men did not make for good soldiers. The priest Valentine, however, secretly performed marriage ceremonies for young men. When Claudius found out about this, he had Valentine arrested and thrown in jail.

There is an additional modern embellishment to The Golden Legend, provided by American Greetings to, and widely repeated despite having no historical basis whatsoever. On the evening before Valentine was to be executed, he would have written the first "valentine" card himself, addressed to a young girl variously identified as his beloved, as the jailer's daughter whom he had befriended and healed, or both. It was a note that read "From your Valentine."


Lots of embellishment from a Christian legend that ends, whatever version you decide to embrace, with the execution of a priest.

Obviously, no one sends a greeting card to honor the martyrdom of some dude who was interrogated (and likely tortured — it was Rome and he was a Christian priest) and killed (probably in some really grotesque and humiliating fashion — again, Rome). I'm not sure it would do to have children in elementary schools cutting out construction paper implements of torture or crayon drawings of a cat being stoned to death.

And so we turn to the greeting card companies for the Great Transformation — like the idea of chocolate bunnies and plastic eggs filled with jelly beans to commemorate the torture and execution of a radical reformer, we now have reinterpreted a legend from early Christian theology to represent something completely different from the legend's origins.

It's OK, though.

Maybe one day, a thousand years from now (if the planet and species manage to survive that long) people will enjoy a holiday that celebrates fidelity in marriage, symbolized by the wearing of hats by the female partners (likely pink pillbox hats) and the sporting of heavily armored head gear by the male partners. They'll call it JFK Day. And children will send little construction paper hats to their parents and  it will revitalize the hat industry.

This year, however, we get to celebrate the commercialized value of romance in the wake of #MeToo and #TimesUp and the sight of straight men everywhere nervously sweating as they try to figure out if their greeting card is subtly harassing someone or that box of chocolates is an insult to someone's body image. Perhaps the card honoring the martyrdom of a priest is apt?

The Weinstein bunch of dickholes have, with one hand on their puds and the other on the necks of women, ruined a perfectly good holiday but the Christians ruined Christmas and Oil Execs ruined Arbor Day, so who cares but Hallmark?

Yes — there are plenty of reasons to hate a holiday that celebrates having a girlfriend or a boyfriend or a partner or a spouse. And, yes, it is a bit like rubbing salt in the wounds of those unattached for a day (or a month if you hang out in Walgreens enough). It's a bit like having National Meat Day if you're a Vegan or National Compassion Day if you're a Republican. But I guess I like Valentine's Day because I know that while I give my partner some roses and a nice night out and a reminder to her that she is, indeed, special and appreciated, I also know that it would be just as appropriate to get her a box of bloody rocks and try to convert her to Christianity.

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