Kage Baker rather liked Valentine’s Day. As she was wont to say, “What’s not to like? Birds’ nests are a nice thing.”
The reference there is to the old Northern European tradition that Valentine’s Day was the day the birds begin to nest. (There are even comments about it in Shakespeare, in A Midsummer Night’s Dream.) Kage, though, just tossed that out to confuse people.
Most folks, of course, associate today with Hallmark cards, chocolate, jewellry, romantic dinners, enforced social engineering at the grade school level, and just generally heart-shaped everything. Kage disliked all the cutesy stuff (though she liked romance and chocolate). Hence the commemoration of birds’ nests.
Various of my friends (an odd bunch, admittedly) have been making semi-sarcastic remarks about the unpleasant martyrdom of St. Valentine being commemorated with pink cards and chocolates, but that’s just an historian’s affectation. For one thing, there seems to have been about a dozen Valentines on the rosters of the Roman Catholic and various Orthodox Churches. For another, he is reported to have died by being beaten with clubs, beheaded, and/or shot full of arrows – though Kage felt that last one was probably reverse contamination from the Cupid figure attached to the day by later romantics and card manufacturers.
It was probably the Catholic Church’s usual trick of assigning a saint to an existing pagan holiday, and letting people commemorate both. February 14, being honoured as the day the birds begin to nest, is obviously a spring event – you know, vernal rites, virility and fertility and so on. By the 1300’s or so, all that entertaining stuff was combined with the growing success of courtly love. All else since then has just been increasing the trimming.
This year’s addition, by the way, seems to be “chocolate’ diamonds. That one would really have cracked Kage up. Chocolate diamonds are the genius-level marketing ploy of Le Vian Diamond company, turning brown-coloured diamonds previously used solely for industrial purposes into a new symbol of romantic love … she’d have loved the clever chutzpah of that. Her research into diamonds had taught Kage that “Diamonds Are Forever” because it’s damned hard to resell them: the price is artificially maintained by the diamond dealers.
Kage was not much into the cards exchange thing. A lot of us who grew up mid-20th century were left a little scorched by that in grammar school. I am sure you recall, Dear Readers – who got Valentines? Who got the most? Who got cards from the cool kids? There was either class warfare wherein someone in the class was always left out (the smelly kid, the fat kid, the weird kid, the smart kid) or egalitarian unity was enforced from on high and you only got to bring Valentines if you brought one for everyone in the class. That not only stirred the masses into hatred of the mind-control authorities, it embarrassed everybody.
In our young womanhood – well, we grew up in the 60’s and 70’s, when most of a young lady’s wardrobe was optional. We had fun. We each ran the gamut of Valentine’s Day games, good, bad and hilarious: from chocolates shaped like things we didn’t tell Momma about, to being abandoned on Little Santa Monica in the middle of the night by some unworthy cur.
By our 40’s, it had become obvious that we were neither of us the nesting type, and decided to leave it to the birds. Kage declared we were forming St. Ermenwyr’s nunnery, and we thereafter made our own trips to See’s to get the sweeties we liked. Kage always enjoyed a reason to get See’s seasonal specialities – she was especially fond of the solid chocolate hearts in scarlet foil.
I’m eating one now, as I type. I’ll set the red foil out for the mockingbirds to use.
Happy Valentine’s Day, y’all.
Ah, yes! The Valentine’s card exchange in elementary school back in the dim, dark 1960s. It was harsh and barbaric and absolutely unfathomable to today’s youngsters, brought up as they are on new-fangled ideas like “kindness” and “self-esteem.”
I still remember getting a Rat Fink valentine from Ricky Messina in third grade. Inside was a thoughtful message that said, “This rat fink looks like you.”
My young relatives are spellbound by my harrowing tales of the Olden Times. It’s as if I grew up in ancient Sparta or something.
Yeah, I’ve been amazing nieces and nephews and friends’ kids for decades, with my thrilling tales of growing up in the Dark Ages. My nephew Michael took me to Show and Tell once in Kindergarten – to explain what it was like to live Right Next To An Ocean. Kage was a project for one friend’s son because she was a Real Life Writer.
It’s keen, being the Advenurous Auntie. Kage and I both revelled in it.
I was “the smart kid” and “the fat kid”. Guess how many valentines I got, growing up in the Sixties. I still dislike Valentine’s Day because of it. I try to be philosophical about it now, but deep down it still hurts.
Kage and I were smart kids. That’s not so bad in the lower grades, but as soon as you start approaching puberty … girls with brains are not well-received. Kage was usually in another world; I, however, was a smart-ass. Luckily for me, I was also arrogant and snobbish, and was amazingly unharmed by the lack of Valentines and other forms of peer approval. And I’m not sure Kage ever even noticed …