austin_dern (austin_dern) wrote,

Would you be mine? Could you be mine?

Valentine's Day has undergone more than six changes over the centuries, but what can you say hasn't managed at least that? There are some things which have managed easily seven or even eight changes within a single century, and according to some experts who didn't hear the question clearly there are at least four things that have changed nine times within seven dozen years, although some of them changed right back again, and one changed back to what it had changed to before a third time. Now reduce that answer to shillings and pence. What answer, you may ask, which is a good question, not an answer at all. Maybe I should start again.

Valentine's Day began as the celebration of the successful murder of Saint Valentine, who was not actually Valentine but one of one or two other people of the same name, who was renowned for having the Day named for him, unless it was the other one. The Day actually began as Valentine's Month, which had the poor fortune to be the month of Mercedonius, which was discovered in the late Roman era to not actually exist, although it was often reported to be hiding between the 23rd and 24th of February. It may seem strange that so many people thought there could be a whole month hiding in the middle of another month, but that would not be even the fourth strangest thing about the Roman calendar. The Roman calendar laid out all sorts of confusing features as copyright traps to catch unsuspecting civilizations who might be sneaking up on them, which was how they originally captured the Etruscans. To make up for the loss of the month at least one of the Valentines was given a day, the 24th (moved up to the 14th when the Gregorian calendar was adopted), and some money which legend says was used to produce the Broadway musical No, No, Nanette, but which actually went to paying for the lawsuits surrounding baseball's Federal League.

The celebration of Valentine's Day was slow to be adopted in the United States, but most historians track its modern celebration to General Washington's desire to follow up his successful Christmas 1776 attack on the Hessian camp in Trenton, New Jersey, and New Year's 1777 attack on the similar base at Princeton, New Jersey, with a Valentine's Day attack on the Hessian camp at Glassboro, New Jersey. However, the Hessians did not have a camp at Glassboro and were nowhere near the city, which could have horribly embarrassed Washington's rebel army except that they didn't go anywhere near it either. A relieved state soon turned this into an annual celebration, which Washington proclaimed annually through the end of his Presidency. The tradition fell off with Thomas Jefferson, however, who suspended the proclamation of Valentine's Day as part of the Embargo Act of 1807, which indicates he was probably thinking of something else at the time.

Celebrations were not revived until the 1880s when Harper's Weekly began taking paid advertising and nationwide railroad networks with refrigerated cars allowed transporting of reasonably fresh produce were used by an ambitious onion industry. The major advertising campaign revived the romantic holiday, with the suggestion that a gift of onions -- bringing about tears, naturally -- would evoke tears of love. More upscale merchants began making synthetic onions of glass or inexpensive jewelry for the prestige. While the food-gift changed over to chocolate after the onion oligarchs were slower to adopt radio as an advertising medium in the 1930s than chocolate-makers were this earlier Valentine's tradition is evoked in the Beatles classic ``Glass Onion''.

And what does the future hold for Valentine's Day? Let's have no sulking and sarcastic barbs, thank you. As with many things, it looks to change in the future by, some estimate, over three more times before it's put away and allowed to rebuild its mystique. We of course can't say what those changes are exactly, but let's just say, you'll love what we start doing in three years with doublets.

Trivia: The United States South Seas Exploring Expedition first observed the Southern Lights on 9 February 1840. Source: Sea of Glory, Nathaniel Philbrick.

Currently Reading: The Saga of the Pony Express, Joseph J Di Certo. The Pony Express had something like 190 stations, and by gum, he's going to describe every one, even the ones that can't be proved to ever have existed.


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