You’re giving them WHAT for Valentine’s Day?

BY DEBRA KEEFER RAMAGE

What do you usually give or receive for Valentine’s Day? Chocolates, jewelry, Valentine cards?  Maybe, if you or they are lucky, a hot date. Or if you or they are both lucky and rich, a trip to Paris or somewhere in Thailand or Hawaii. Boring. Unthematic. Doesn’t tell them anything about what a charming and knowledgeable geek you are. It’s just not good enough. No wonder there’s a sizeable minority, even among the safely and happily partnered, that claim to hate Valentine’s Day. In order to save Valentine’s Day, Southside Pride is featuring the return of the “listicle”—that’s an internet-based term for an article that’s structured around a (usually amusing) list. We explored deeply into the murky history of St. Valentine and his (or their, yeah, there are several saints named Valentine) special day in order to structure a list of truly quirky presents (in most cases, little collections of presents) that you could give your Valentine sweetie instead of the usual stuff. Now, we don’t really expect anyone to go out and buy these exact things. We consider it more of a thought experiment to get you to think outside of the box, or the pink envelope decorated with putti.
1 The Valentine’s Day really has nothing to do with the ancient Roman Holiday of Lupercalia Package.
For many years, supposed experts claimed that a specific pope (Gelasius, of late Imperial Rome), who decided quite rightly that the by-then very degraded and disgusting celebration of Lupercalia  was un-Christian and not healthy and would be banned, had also instituted a new saint day to “replace” it.  And that that was how we got St. Valentine’s Day as a day for honoring love and marriage. This claim never really did stand up to the slightest scrutiny. For one thing, there is only a vague relationship between the way Lupercalia was celebrated, even when it was still religious (ish) and not degraded, and the way Valentine’s Day is celebrated. But mainly, there is no historical evidence that Valentine’s Day was celebrated at all until many centuries after the banning of Lupercalia (we’ll get to that in a later list item). Nevertheless, Lupercalia is an interesting rite, very bound up with the mysterious history of Rome and its even more mysterious founders, Romulus and Remus, the twins raised by a she-wolf. There was a cave in ancient Rome called the Lupercal (the wolf cave) that was said to be the lair of this maternal wolf. Originally the rites were begun there in the cave, where two priests from two of the patrician founding families of Rome would sacrifice two goats and a dog. There was some other pagan mumbo-jumbo involved, but the highlight of it came when these two and some of their cousins, dressed only in fresh bloody goatskin, would make little strips of goatskin into a crude cat-o-nine-tails and then run around the inner walls of the city “whipping” the outstretched hands of Roman women. The lash of the goatskin was supposed to ensure fertility, or for those already expecting, an easy childbirth. Lupercalia is mentioned in the Shakespeare play Julius Caesar. Valentine’s Day is mentioned in a Shakespeare play too, speaking of vague connections. Romulus and Remus are not the only quasi-historical figures said to have been nursed by a wolf, they are only the most famous. The package consists of: “Julius Caesar” (1953 film); “Hamlet” (2009, made for TV); “Raised by Wolves” (British TV series); and “The Sunset Tree” by the indie band the Mountain Goats (album, 2005).
2 The Birds and the Bees Part I—or the Parliament of Foules Package
In fact, it is now generally accepted that St. Valentine’s Day as a celebration of love and marriage was invented by Geoffrey Chaucer in a long poem called “The Parliament of Foules.” (That’s Foules as in fowl, i.e., birds.) The main reason for this belief is that there was an explosion of literature linking Valentine’s Day to courtly love and/or marriage right after the poem was published and not a single peep for the thousand or so years before it. The package consists of: “The Riverside Chaucer” (Oxford Press) and a pair of lovebirds.
3 The Birds and the Bees Part II—or the Beekeepers’ Package
St. Valentine is (or are, if there are in fact two of him) not only the patron saint of love, engaged couples and marriage. He is also the patron saint of beekeepers. Also of epilepsy, fainting, the plague and pilgrims. The Beekeepers’ package consists of: “Beekeeper’s Handbook, 4th edition” by Diana Sammataro, Alphonse Avitabile and Dewey M. Caron; Liberty Chocolate (made with honey) from Vermont; and a beekeeping starter kit. Alternative if the beekeeping starter kit is too much: “The Final Solution” by Michael Chabon.
4 The Love and Marriage Package
By the Victorian era and the flowering of the English novel, Valentine’s Day was a well-established custom. It was about the same time that a government-sponsored postal system, a rise in entrepreneurship, and education for the working classes all led to the industry of pre-printed Valentine’s Day cards. This package celebrates the tradition of marriage in novels (three books and a film). The package consists of: “Eligible,” by Curtis Settenfeld; “Pride and Prejudice” (2005 film); “Can You Forgive Her?” by Anthony Trollope; and “Marrying the Mistress,” by his great-great-great niece Joanna Trollope.
5 The History of the Postal System Package
Valentine’s Day is inextricably bound to the existence of a postal system. This package focuses on postal systems through the ages and related hobbies. Penny Blacks were the first mass-produced stamp, and they are not rare. They cost between $180 and $3,000, depending on condition. The package consists of: “The Crying of Lot 49” by Thomas Pynchon; Thurn and Taxis (a Euro-game); a stamp album and a Penny Black.
6 The Roses and Relics Package
St. Valentine was also the patron saint of pilgrims, and long before he was celebrated for inspiring sexual love, he was (they were) a popular relic to visit on pilgrimages. One of the most well-known Valentinian relics is a rose-enwreathed skull in a glass case in a small church north of Rome. It is amazingly reminiscent of a certain Grateful Dead album cover illustration. This package consists of: “Tale of the Body Thief” by Anne Rice; “The Name of the Rose,” by Umberto Eco; “Sacred Bones: Confessions of a Medieval Grave Robber” by Michael Spring; Grateful Dead “Skull and Roses” album, 1971; and a live rose bush in a pot.
7 The Februa (Purification) Package
Since we had no hope of finding good gifts related to epilepsy or plague (we could have suggested giving a donation to an epilepsy charity, but where’s the romance in that? You should just do it because it’s right, not because it’s Valentine’s Day) we decided to focus on health rather than disease. Although there is no evidence that Valentine’s Day replaced Lupercalia, it is possible that Lupercalia replaced an earlier pre-Roman purification festival called Februa, which is in fact what the month of February is named for. So this package consists of: a Spa Day, including hot stone massage, mani-pedi and any other treatment of your choice.
8 The Fainting Couch
This one, obviously, refers to St. Valentine as the patron saint of fainting. Some saints get all the good patronages … It consists, quite simply, of: a real antique fainting couch.
9 The Things that happened on Valentine’s Day Part I—the Gangland Massacre Package
There are dozens of things that happened on Valentine’s Day, but we chose just the two most memorable. This one is so memorable it’s named after St. Valentine’s Day. The Tony Curtis/Jack Lemmon cross-dressing pair in the 1959 movie were in hiding because they witnessed the massacre. There actually aren’t that many movies that include the scene in them. There is a Roger Corman film just about the massacre, but it’s not very good. So we decided to throw in a martini kit. The package consists of:  “Some Like It Hot” (1959 film); boxed set of “Boardwalk Empire” (2010-2014 TV series); and a good quality bottle of gin, a good quality bottle of vermouth and two martini glasses.
10 The Things that happened of Valentine’s Day Part II—the Jackie Kennedy Package
The other thing we chose is FLOTUS Jackie Kennedy’s historical tour of the White House TV broadcast in 1962. This package celebrates the best things about Jackie Kennedy Onassis, including a selection of books she published in her third career as an editor in NYC. The package consists of:  “Jackie” (film, 2016); “The Cairo Trilogy” by Naguib Mahfouz; NYT bestseller “Moonwalk” by Michael Jackson; “A Cartoon History of the Universe, Vols. 1 and 2” by Larry Gonick; and “Healing and the Mind” by Bill Moyers.

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