Saints’ Days and Chocolates

Kage Baker, being both a history buff and (at one point) a Catholic schoolgirl, did a lot of research into saints. I am uncertain that it was actual piety that inspired the research; there wasn’t a lot to read on the classroom shelves except the The Lives of the Saints, which in the 1960’s was sort of the National Inquirer of Catholic literature. It was full of weirdness and violence.

I recall that when Kage did a background check on St. Valentine, she discovered that there are 12 or 14 of them on the liturgical calendar. It was during that period late in the 20th century when many of the less-easily verified saints (or those too easily identified as pagan gods with the serial numbers filed off) were disenfranchised. However, apparently since there is such a crowd of Valentines – all of them martyrs – their names were left on the list of those whom Catholics were advised to consider venerating. It was sort of an individual serving, free will, personal-choice decision.

When you consider that February 14th was noted by Shakespeare to be the day the birds begin to nest, you can see there must have been an older, non-Christian tradition associated with the day. All the Valentines are male, and the names means simply “worthy, strong”. He is usually martyred with a blade, usually decapitated. He might be one of those vegetable fertility gods so popular in pre-Christian Europe; Geoffrey Chaucer’s crowd associated February 14th and Valentine with romantic love. (Even the traditional cards date back to the 14th century and earlier; Hallmark is blameless on this one.) Or it might be a holdover from the Roman Lupercalia, when young men energetically ran around Rome dressed in goatskins, lightly assaulting young women with faux whips: the entire thing being intended to assure fertility.

Fertility is in most of it, which maybe accounts for the over-heated young men and birds’ nests. The romantic love can be identified as being added during the Age of Chivalry; one assumes the devotees of Eleanor of Aquitaine preferred flowers and sweeties to lashes of bloody goat-skin. But no one is quite sure how that crowd of Christian saints got involved … it is, appropriately enough for both religion and the way of a man and a maid, a mystery.

The addition of chocolate to the regalia is probably the most logical part. Chocolate has been regaled as an aphrodisiac by everyone who used it, since whenever they started to use it: Aztec emperors drank it it for stamina with the many royal wives. It was Spanish nuns who figured out how to improve the stuff with cream and sugar; it was promptly forbidden to young girls in most of Europe. What else to give, on a spring-time festival connected to fertility and romantic love? And, speaking as an older lady retired from the lists of love, I can assure you all, Dear Readers, that the charms of chocolate do not wither or fade with time …

Kage was especially fond of the small, solid-chocolate hearts that come in fancy bags from See’s Chocolates this time of year. They are covered in scarlet foil, which delighted her eyes, and are simply superb. She’d share them with the parrot, rolling the foil into glittering balls for him to chase between tasty theobromos bites. Valentine’s Day may or may not be the day the birds begin to nest, but given the opportunity, they sure like a bit of chocolate to commemorate it. So I must go share with Harry now. He is meowing most fetchingly for my attention, and some festive chocolate. That red foil tips him off every time.

So Happy Valentine’s Day, Dear Readers.

About Kate

I am Kage Baker's sister. Kage was/is a well-known science fiction writer, who died on January 31, 2010. She told me to keep her work going - I'm doing that. This blog will document the process.
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3 Responses to Saints’ Days and Chocolates

  1. widdershins says:

    Where did the word theobromos come from?

  2. widdershins says:

    Ye gods and little green fishes… what have I done! … *slaps forehead!*

    • Kate says:

      Widdershins – the word theobromos is Greek, and means “food of the gods”. It is the scientific name of the cacao tree, Theobromos cacao, from whose seeds chocolate is made. The great cataloger Linnaeus gave it that name based on the extraordinary flavour and effect of chocolate. And as time goes on and more research is done on it, it proves capable of more and more. An amazing plant.
      Don’t worry, though – I won’t go on for my usual obsessed length. I could, but that’s the short answer to the question.

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