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After more than a week of raging fury by a vengeful president and the volcanic spewing of mutual hatred by our political parties, Valentine’s Day this Friday just can’t come soon enough.
I always thought Valentine’s Day honored the patron saint of Hallmark, but I haven’t been thinking grand enough. Valentine’s Day is celebrated worldwide on Feb. 14 as “a time when people show feelings of love, affection and friendship” to one another. It doesn’t hurt the economy, either.
Historically, the holiday began as an ancient Roman fertility festival, Lupercalia, in February that was appropriated by the Catholic Church around 500 AD to honor two martyred priests named Valentine. Eventually, Saint Valentine became the patron saint of love. Centuries later, Western culture added Cupid, the chubby little Roman god of desire with his drawn bow and arrow, as an icon of the day.
One of the things I most remember as a child in elementary school about Valentine’s Day is that generally, we were expected to give everyone in our class a Valentine’s card so that nobody would be left out and have their feelings hurt.
The fact that the cards were cheaply made, textually limited and frequently identical was totally beside the point. We’d all go home at the end of the day with a thick pile of “Be My Valentine” messages, soon enough to be tossed in the trash but more than adequate to make a young child feel included.
Teenagers and adults in romantic entanglements had significantly more invested — financially and emotionally — in the success of their Valentine’s Day obligations. Fancier cards, flowers, candy, maybe jewelry for the adults, and a big date of some kind were ritual requirements, and weeks of bliss or punishment could turn on how well or poorly we represented our inner affection to our intended recipient. I suppose that in some ways, observing Valentine’s Day properly was a good training ground for later in life remembering the all-important anniversary.
I did notice, much later, that it was always the girl and not the guy who got the candy and the flowers and the jewelry. The guys got the bill and, if they were lucky, perhaps a card. If we were really lucky, we made out quite nicely on the day’s big date. That’s a cost-benefit ratio in technical terms, a happy memory in human terms.
What I did not notice as a child, but find amusing now, was the tremendous irony of stores advertising — and we buying — Valentine’s Day cards that read “I love you only” in multi-packs of a dozen or more.
I can only assume, capitalism’s efficiency being what it is, that such multi-packs are still sold. And though love and politics aren’t mixing much these days, at least in theory, Americans can certainly use a lot of Valentine’s Day cards to express our inner feelings. And you can tell the true partisans by the cards they pick.
From what I observe, Republicans are more likely to pick out cards that show Cupid shooting his arrows and using the message, “Be My Valentine.” The party is so win-oriented that the message sounds like a presidential order with just the right touch of authoritarianism in its tone. And the bow and arrow, as an added bonus, is a sentimental tribute to the Second Amendment and the sacred right of all Americans to bear arms, useful or not.
Independents, not real impressed with party politics that don’t involve them anyway, might have Cupids or hearts, but their cards don’t have any printed message inside. Independents don’t learn toward commitments. They can use the blank space to write out any message they want depending on how they’re feeling on the appointed day.
They can say “I love you,” “Be my Valentine,” or “Go fly a kite” to any recipient they choose. Their cards can also open up from either the right or the left.
This presidential year, Democrats especially appreciate the multi-packs. With seven, eight or even more candidates still in the running at any given moment, it’s convenient to have a card that says “I love you only,” which primary voters can send to all the candidates at once. And the front of the card may include a Cupid, perhaps, but the die-hard partisan cards will feature proud pictures of the party’s symbol, a jackass.
Considering that all the candidates have their impressive moments and share many of the same fundamental values, sending a card that says “I love you only” to all of them is not only understandable human nature as Democrats choose their best champion, it’s a fair reminder beyond Valentine’s Day that voters have many good contenders with genuine unimpeachable backgrounds compared to the alternative.
Ken Ripley, a resident of Spring Hope, is The Enterprise’s editor and publisher emeritus.