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February 14? Ignore it.

It’s the exploitative, expensive, tacky season of tat. St Valentine has a lot to answer for.  “Valentine’s Day” is commercially driven codswallop. It aims to separate gullible and soppy people from their hard earned cash – and succeeds. Red roses (which fail to blossom, droop depressingly the next day and may not be the only thing which does), candlelit meals in restaurants where you can see neither the menu nor what you’re eating and pricey gifts are nothing to do with anything.  Anyone who succumbs is simply handing over money to businesses only too ready to relieve fools of it.

Just who was St Valentine anyway? Well he might have been a third century Roman priest. Or maybe a bishop. Or perhaps there were two of them. It’s all pretty vague. Whatever the distant truth (if any) everyone’s agreed that he was, or they were, martyred by decapitation. Nasty – and not a lot to do with lovers, hearts, chocolates, rampant commerce  or beekeepers, for which St Valentine is, oddly, also patron saint.

The whole saint thing was invented by the Catholic Church in the 14th century when it constructed the hagiography –  the nearest it has ever come to entertaining fiction. At that point – bit like organising a cabinet – each saint was assigned a department or a combination of departments, often arbitrarily. Thus Valentine got lovers and beekeepers, St Christopher got travellers, St Jude got lost causes and all the rest of it. You can imagine them all – if that’s your thing –  at some celestial cabinet meeting arguing for their various projects.

Few saints  have made the money that Valentine coaxes out of easily manipulated people every year, though. Interest in Valentine’s Day has soared in the last generation or two just as monogamous commitment in relationships has declined – a Johnsonian triumph of hope over experience it seems. And the card companies, restaurants, gift manufactures et al have dived in enthusiastically.  When I was a teenager in the 1960s, and marriage was usually still a serious commitment, one or two people sent anonymous  cards. It was all very minor, In the nineteenth century – the plot of Far From The Madding Crowd (1874) rests on it – it was a curiosity but hardly a Big Thing. Today we have shops full of red junk festooned with cupids, arrows and other nonsense capitalising (literally) on the spending lull between Christmas and Easter. Resist it I say. Real love is belittled by the tawdry triviality of it all.

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Susan Elkin Susan Elkin is an education journalist, author and former secondary teacher of English. She was Education and Training Editor at The Stage from 2005 - 2016
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