In My Father’s Words
03/07/1938 – 18/10/2018
Saint Valentine’s Day
There are 24 hours in a day, which is 1440 minutes, and there are, well, an awful lot of seconds. In addition there are 365 days in each year, except for leap years, when there is an extra day. This extra day came about in 1582 when Pope Gregory XIII decided that old Julius Caesar had been rotten at maths, and had miscalculated his calendar by 11 minutes and 14 seconds a year. So the Pope removed 10 days from the calendar; and, as a result, the 5th to 15th of October 1582 never happened.
Now the Catholic countries accepted the scrapping of the Julian and introduction of the Gregorian calendar at once, after all the jolly old Pope was infallible, wasn’t he? However, the Protestant countries said, perhaps naturally, hang on a minute. They obviously suspected some kind of Catholic plot. They hung on for some 170 years, in the case of Great Britain, and in Orthodox Greece, until 1923, before accepting Pope Gregory’s sensible reform.
All right, I hear you cry, but what has all this to do with St Valentine, or the Big Vee, as he is known in heaven. Well, quite a lot, surprisingly. The original St Valentine was a priest in Rome who tried to help the persecuted Christians, and was clubbed to death for his efforts. This happened in 270 AD and his feast day is celebrated on 14th February. So, the big Vee started off the custom of giving presents? Well no, not exactly. You see, there was an annual Roman festival called the Lupercalia, which went back to celebrating the wolf suckling Romulus and Remus, and this involved people giving each other little presents. This was held on 15th February, and when Rome became Christian, it was a simple matter to transfer a pagan festival to being a Christian one, and joining it to good old St Valentine, whose feast day was the previous day. There were also some links with the start of the mating season for birds, the feathered variety, but we have no need to explore that.
It is a strange business, this having ‘days’ for this that and the other. There are some obvious ‘days’ which are celebrated in most parts of the world, like Christmas Day and New Years Day, even if prior to 1923 the Greeks celebrated the latter ten days later, or earlier than everyone else. Like Julius C, I was never any good at maths either.
We also have the various British national days, St George, St Patrick, St David and St Andrew. The only one who really ‘belonged’, was St David. St Andrew never got closer to Scotland than Israel, St Pat was a Taffy, and St George, despite being the patron saint of England for nearly 800 years, probably came from Turkey or Egypt. So there is not much there to connect with the big Vee.
There are other days, of course, like birthdays and wedding anniversaries, best remembered, lads, and in the Catholic parts of Europe, the name day. That is the feast day of the saint after whom you are named. I guess that the Darrens, Waynes, Sharons and Traceys miss out there, unless you know of a St Sharon. In a number of Commonwealth countries, including Australia, they celebrate the Queen’s Birthday, but whether it is her actual or official birthday, I can never remember. In South Africa, prior to 1994, they celebrated Dingaan’s Day, or the Battle of Blood River which had been fought on 16th December 1838 and in which the Boers beat the Zulu’s by an innings and six hundred runs. Mr Mandela changed that to Reconciliation Day. Nice touch, Nelson.
And that reminds me, why should politically correct left wing councils choose Nelson Mandela Day, rather than Trafalgar Day, when our own Nelson could be remembered? Probably the reason is that Horatio was just a British hero. And what is wrong with 18th June, Waterloo Day, when the Iron Duke beat the man who had caused the deaths of two and a half million Frenchman in fifteen years. That was only the French dead, it’s not counting the British, Austrians, Spanish, Portuguese, Russians, Prussians etc. You get the idea. I suppose we do celebrate in some way the defeat of Bonaparte’s 20th Century doppelganger, Adolf Hitler, with VE Day, VJ Day and D-Day.
And what about St Crispin’s Day? “And gentlemen of England now abed will think themselves accursed they were not here, and hold their manhoods cheaply while any speaks that fought with us upon St Crispin’s Day.” Henry the Fifth by the Immortal Bard.
So what am I getting at? Simply that there are many other days more worthy of note and of celebration than St Valentine’s Day, but the big Vee gets the vote, along with Mother’s Day, because it has now become connected with love. Love has always been big with the marketing men, because boys and girls, men and women will spend money in its name. Nowadays, it has become customary to give cards on St Valentine’s Day, and small presents such as chocolates, perfumes, Jaguars and Mercedes Benz’s. Growing up as a lad, a million years ago, one was supposed to send the Valentine card anonymously, but with sufficient clues that your heart’s desire could guess who was the sender. Now you can buy cards which say, ‘To my wife’, or ‘To my boyfriend’.
So what, if anything, does it all mean? Well, probably quite a lot. Even to a failed old cynic like me, ‘love’ is still the thing that matters most in the world, and hopefully always will, even if its manifestations are sometimes a bit tacky. I would leave you with the words and music of Richard Rogers, and Larry Hart.
I watched and heard the delicious Kim Novak sing this in Pal Joey. Sinatra had a great voice, but Kim had better legs, and eyes to drown in.
So, if you have someone you think about on St Valentine’s Day, make sure that every day is Valentine’s Day.
My funny valentine, sweet comic valentine
You make me smile with my heart.
Your looks are laughable, unphotographable,
Yet you’re my favourite work of art.
Is your figure less than Greek,
Is your mouth a little weak,
When you open it to speak
Are you smart.
But don’t change a hair for me,
Not if you care for me
Stay, little Valentine, stay,
Each day is Valentine’s day.
Written by BM