(NOTE: This is a newspaper column I originally wrote a number of years ago and have rerun every few years or so at this time of year. I didn't run it in the newspaper this year, so I decided to share it here instead...)

Every February 15th, the ancient Romans used to take part in a fertility ritual known as the Lupercalia, so named in honor of some obscure rustic diety known as Lupercus.

Much later - sometime in the Third Century, if you’re taking notes - men began commemorating the martyrdom of St. Valentine every February 14. That date just happened to be the anniversary of the day that Valentine was beheaded by the same Romans who were so fond of observing the Lupercalia.

As much as I hate to admit it, I’m just not as up on my ancient Roman history as a good newspaperman probably ought to be. Therefore I can only assume that the proximity of these two distinct holidays explains how St. Valentine’s Day came to be associated with romance.

Even if it doesn’t, the correlation between romance and martyrdom is most apt. Because you and I both know that love has caused more people to lose their heads than every guillotine and chopping block ever built.

Why else would Charlie Brown spend one week every year sitting under his mailbox, waiting for the valentines that never seem to come? Why else would a man like Mike Brady marry a woman with three bratty daughters when he already has three equally obnoxious sons of his own? Why else would an otherwise intelligent woman like Melissa Small willingly put up with an occasionally thoughtless, boneheaded lout who occasionally masquerades as a newspaper columnist?

It can only be one of two things: love or stupidity. Or is that being redundant?

There are those who think so. And it really doesn’t take a great deal of insight to understand why; love can make people do some pretty strange things.

A little boy will break his arm falling out of a tree that he probably wouldn’t have been climbing in the first place if he hadn’t been so intent on impressing that little girl who just moved into the house next door. A little girl will walk up to a boy out on the school playground and brazenly announce in a voice loud enough that everyone can hear that he WILL be her boyfriend, or else; that’s how I found myself involved in my first serious romance, at the ripe old age of nine. 

(Alas, that particular relationship was doomed from the very start. There was an incompatability problem that we were just never able to overcome  - I liked climbing trees and watching Batman, she liked playing with dolls and having tea parties with make-believe tea. Plus I pushed her down on the playground a few times; you’d be surprised how quickly that will cool a woman’s passion…)

And then there are those cute little grade school Valentine’s Day parties. Children eat candy hearts and cupcakes with pink icing, and trade blood-red envelopes with heart-shaped valentines stuffed inside, containing messages such as: “You’re so sweet, I hope we can be friends forever.”

Of course, what they REALLY want to say to one another at that point in their lives is more along the lines of: “You look like a big ugly lump of grapefruit. Go stick your head in a Cuisinart and push for purée.” And that’s perfectly normal behavior. I didn’t understand it then and I certainly don’t now, but to kids that age, that’s the real thing. That’s LOVE.

This whole love-and-romance thing was so much easier back in the old days. Back then there were only two stages to the relationship. First you were betrothed, either through the political machinations of the local monarch or by going out and slaying a dragon. Then you were married. And that was that.

The system must have worked, because they all lived happily ever after. It says so in all the books.

And before that it was easier still. If a fellow saw a girl he happened to like, he just clubbed her over the head and dragged her back to the cave. Yeah, boy, those were the days...

But modern relationships are rather like modern automobile engineering; so many new components have been added to the system over the years that we’ve pretty well gummed up the works. Little wonder, then, that the kind of “real romance” some of us grew up with has gone the way of the Volkswagen air-cooled engine; little wonder, too, that some folks seem to care less and less about little things like Valentine’s Day with each passing year.

Well, that’s okay. After all, there are plenty of other holidays out there. So to those who have pretty much already written off this Valentine’s Day as a bust, let me be the first to wish you the happiest of St. Patrick’s Days…

(Copyright by John Allen Small)