St. Valentine's Day Primer

All you ever wanted to know about the holiday from a practicing Catholic.

Saturday is St. Valentine's Day, and we should all act accordingly. It is a longstanding holiday honoring lovers, plus it gives Walgreens something to stock their shelves with between the end of the Christmas sales and the start of Easter season.

Nobody's exactly sure, but St. Valentine's Day probably derives from the ancient Roman feast of Lupercalis, which fell on Feb. 15 every year, at least until Pope Gregory had the Roman calendar changed to the Gregorian calendar that we use today, so that Lent and Easter wouldn't keep sliding later and later into the spring.

That's actually a lot of information, so let's take it one step at a time.

· There used to be people known as Romans. They conquered a lot of the known world, and they killed Jesus Christ, although apparently Mel Gibson thinks that the Jews did it. Just kidding, Mel. I know that you know that the Vatican absolved the Jews of any blame back in the 1960s. Of course, that was also after the Second Vatican Council, whose rulings and teachings you reject.

Boy, I can't wait to see that movie, especially considering it's completely in Aramaic and Latin and there are all kinds of scenes of the Lord being tortured and then nailed to a cross. It comes out on Ash Wednesday.

· Now, Ash Wednesday is the start of Lent, a period of 47 days ending on Easter Sunday, during which Catholics give up stuff that they like in honor of Jesus' suffering and death. Most people consider Lent to be 40 days, but all you have to do is get a calendar (a Gregorian one is preferable) and count for yourself. Many Catholics explain this discrepancy away by saying that the Sundays in Lent don't count toward the total. To me, this is bizarre. How are you going to give stuff up for the Lord and then pig out on Sundays, which should be the holiest day of week for you? Makes no sense.

Just a note: The worst movie ever made about Lent (and a finalist for the worst movie ever made, period) is 40 Days and 40 Nights, starring Josh Unibrow Hartnett. It's about a guy who tries to give up premarital sex for 40 days in Lent, even though Lent is 47 days AND premarital sex is a sin that should be avoided 365 days a year, anyway. Plus, that eyebrow is creepy.

Anyway, on Ash Wednesday, you go to Mass, after which you stand in this long line so a priest can smear black ashes all over your forehead. Yeah, well, at least we don't think cows are sacred. The ashes are made from burning the palms from the previous year's Palm Sunday. I don't have time or space to go into that.

· Remember this: Easter falls on the first Sunday that comes after the first full moon of spring. That means it almost always falls between March 24 and April 22. (This year, it's April 11.) A few years from now, it'll fall on April 24, the latest it's ever been, and then in the 2100s, it'll fall on April 25. I think I'll wait around to see that one.

So, to find Ash Wednesday (which comes after Fat Tuesday, otherwise known as Mardi Gras), just count back 47 days from Easter, with Easter being Day 1.

· The Romans had a feast called Lupercalis. It doesn't sound nearly as romantic as "St. Valentine's Day." Or, as most people say, "Valentine's Day." (The basketball players that I coach give me grief for saying "St. Valentine's Day," but it's an old habit, and, being a Catholic, I have to accentuate the positive whenever possible.) I can't imagine some Roman woman saying, "Oh, look, how sweet. He sent me a Lupercalis."

Of course, back then, women had names like Calpurnia, so it probably didn't matter all that much.

· The festival gradually became associated with the feast day (Feb. 14) of two Roman martyrs, both of whom were named St. Valentine and both of whom lived in the third century.

Now, how much would that suck? First, your mom, in a fit of post-partum pique, sticks you with the name Valentine. Then, you're persecuted, tortured and eventually killed for your belief in God. Finally, when it comes time to be immortalized, you have to share top billing with a guy who basically led your life, only in another county. It's just wrong.

It's like that running misidentification involving the statue of St. Francis at the San Xavier Mission. Because of church politics, the history of conquest and inter-tribal rivalries, the statue represents both St. Francis of Assisi and St. Francis Xavier, two totally different people.

You should try to be as romantic as possible on Saturday to your honey. Not just on Saturday, but especially on Saturday. For example, when I was dating my wife in college, I used to tell her all kinds of romantic things, like, "Hey, you've got this really good-looking left eye."

One time, I gave her a hand-made Valentine that read, "If I had a nickel for every time I thought about you ... I'd think about you a lot more often."

Let me tell you: That did the trick. That night, we went to the Pizza Hut in Douglas and made goo-goo eyes at each other. Of course, I've always wondered if her parents really wanted her home at 9 that night, what with her being in college and all. It's probably OK, since I was running out of money, seeing as how I had to pay for her two sisters who had come along on the date as chaperones.

It all worked out well. We've been married for quite a while now. We still celebrate St. Valentine's Day, and her sisters are hardly ever around.

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