14 February 2012

It’s not just hearts that break on St Valentines Day

I am not really one for Valentine’s Day. The idea of a scheduled day for expressing love toward ones significant other seems somewhat against the point to me, and consequentially I was not going to make any Valentine’s Day related post. But then as usual I read something that got my mind ticking along, and before you knew it, I had a rant on the way.
It was this article over at io9, 10 Things You Probably Didn’t Know About Love and Sex that started it all; this line in particular jumped out at me (no pun intended):
"We had this patient who suffered penile fracture after running across the room and trying to penetrate his wife with a flying leap," he says.
The ‘he’ in this case was Hunter Wessells — chair of the urology department at the University of Washington School of Medicine, and he is talking about "[Penile fracture] a severe form of bending injury to the erect penis that occurs when a membrane called the tunica albuginea tears". Apparently then blood fills areas that it isn’t meant to, and you are left with painful swelling and bruising. Ouch!
But enough about that, I am only including the quote because it spurred me on in writing this post (and because it creates a pretty amusing mental image). You have to admit, the man must have had some gusto. And though perhaps this doesn't embody the more loving parts of Valentine’s Day, it nevertheless was the catalyst for the rest of this post.
All I can say is I hope the guy had some form of costume on when they dragged him to the emergency room.
"Holy fractured penis Batman!"
Anyhow, onto the rest of the post:
Saint Valentine's Day, as the name hints, is a celebration rooted in religious steeping. There are a lot of holidays that try and force their religiosity on us, but I can’t claim that it is my atheism that makes me averse to this Saint centered holiday, as one of my favourite days of the year likewise takes its name from an esteemed Catholic of old.

There are 14 Saint Valentines (the Catholics are nothing if not thorough in their application of religion en masse), but the one most often associated with the holiday was a Roman priest martyred (cf. killed) during the reign of Claudius II. What had he done during this time to enrage the then Emperor, but to also instill himself as the name of a holiday based on love?
Marrying Christians.
You see back then it was the Christians who were being persecuted and refused marriage; something you think they would have learnt from by now. The emperor was against marriage for young men in general, because he figured married men would be less willing to serve in his army. So combine the fact that Valentine was helping out Christians (a crime in itself), and marrying people under the Empires nose, and you begin to understand why he was soon put to death.
While in prison, the ever pious Valentine even tried to convert the Emperor, who was likewise trying to convert him! It wasn't much of a competition in the end, with the Emperor being offended by the others efforts (an offended religious person; who would have thought it?), and as a result having Valentine beaten with clubs, stoned and beheaded.
Perfect fodder for a day celebrating love yes?
But there are much more interesting facts about Valentines Day from around the world that don't necessarily involve gruesome murder, for instance:

It is a public holiday in Mexico.
In Slovenia the traditional day of love is March 12, the Saint Gregory's day, which I love solely for its dispassionate sound.
Guatemala isn't as willing to commit, and simply calls it Affection Day. While Latveria celebrate it as ‘Just Good Friends’ day, though don’t quote me on that one.
The most depressing of all the worlds traditions I read about has to be Korea’s. It starts off good; on the 14th of February men are given chocolate by women, so I am up for that. Then on March 14th, men reciprocate by giving non-chocolate candy to the women, in what is called White Day. But then, to add insult to what would have hoped to have been private injury, April 14th is called ‘Black Day’, and those who did not receive anything on Valentine’s Day, or White Day, “go to a Korean restaurant to eat black noodles (자장면 jajangmyeon) and "mourn" their single life”!!
Nothing helps you cheer up about your single life more than drab black noodles
After reading up a bit on Valentine’s Day, and how it is expressed across the globe, I have to say that the cynics, who often bemoan the commercialisation of this ‘holiday’, are pretty on the ball in this case. It’s obvious that Valentine’s Day is latched on to by the flower, chocolates and greeting card industry, but in many cases this is the sole reason for the holiday’s existence. Many cultures have a love related day, and many western ones derive this from some sort of religious origin and custom dating back to the days of Chaucer. But many more, such as those in Japan, Denmark and Norway were forced into the native culture by florist organisations, and chocolate company executives.
This has been so successful in Japan that Japanese chocolate companies now make half their annual sales during this time of the year!
Japanese ladies may seem a bit jilted, as due to a typo from one of these executives back when they were fabricating this special day, it was perceived that the custom should be only for women to give chocolates to men. However don't feel too bad for the Japanese female population, as those crafty execs also managed to institute a ‘White day’, or ‘Reply Day’ on March 14th, where men are expected to return the favour to those women who gave them chocolate, but the return gifts are expected to be at least two or three times more valuable than the gifts received on Valentine's Day.
The obverse situation to all this lovey stuff is of course found in Saudi Arabia where the ‘cheer police’ not only ban the holiday for its Christian origins, but also warn local store owners not to stock any red items on that day. How lovely.
I suppose it is better than in Malaysia where last year over 100 couples were arrested on Valentines Day simply for being together (and perhaps wanting to have sex), while the Deputy Prime Minister remarked on how celebrating romantic love was "not suitable" for Muslims.

At the end of the day there is no real harm in having a day set aside for celebrating romantic love. And hell, it might even spur on those less likely to express this stuff daily to their loved ones. But honestly I find the stuff above, the changes through history, and the differing perspectives of the world, far more interesting than boxes of chocolates and soon to die flowers.

Tata for now.

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