The morning after

The morning after was also published by The Manila Times on 15 February 2023.

Yesterday was Valentine’s day. It’s not as if people need to be reminded about it. It’s more about reflecting on the facts of life, especially those we keep as part of romantic experiences.

We are all indebted to romantic love. We came to life out of our parents’ romantic partnership. It was on account of a romantic fire that ignited their desire for sex, without which no one gets conceived, and conception is where the world begins for everyone to spin.

The morning after sex

(Let me quickly add that for Roman Catholics, the only exception is Jesus Christ, whose conception has been attributed to the power of the Holy Spirit. Also, for genetic scientists, success in experiments with asexual procreation can render sex as either superfluous or unnecessary, except for couples who seek nothing more than physical pleasure.)

Yesterday reminded us of romantic fires that burn everyone’s desire for sex. Reports tell us that the local motel industry picks up on this day, and on the few days that either precede or follow it. (For the uninitiated, motels in the Philippines offer private rooms for guests looking for quick sex, a business model that preceded drive-thru facilities for fast-food restaurants.)

Elsewhere, over the internet, the stories pound on the same phenomenon. A news item, for example, released by a dating site, had this title: Dating’s High Season Begins January 14th In Countdown to Valentine’s Day.

And yet how Valentine’s Day came to be associated with romantic love is a long story.

Originally celebrated as a Christian feast day to honor “a few” martyrs named Saint Valentine, Valentine’s Day has become a consequential commercial and cultural event of love and romance in many countries, including those where Christians comprise a minority segment of their populations.

Of the several Christian martyrs that have been associated with February 14, the one that reportedly was prosecuted under the Roman Empire in the third century appears to be the most popular. Valentine of Rome was a priest in Rome who was martyred in 269 and was added to the calendar of saints by Pope Gelasius I in 496.

Then there was Valentine of Terni, a bishop of Interamna (now Terni, in central Italy), who was said to have been martyred during the persecution under Emperor Aurelian in 273. Like Valentine of Rome, he too was buried on the Via Flaminia, but supposedly in a location apart from that of the other Valentine.

To complicate the story, there had been written accounts suggesting that both Valentines were in fact one and the same.

From the Vatican (Typis Polyglottis Vaticanis, MCMLXIX), p. 117): In the 1969 revision of the Roman Catholic Calendar of Saints, the feast day of Saint Valentine on February 14 was removed from the General Roman Calendar and relegated to particular (local or even national) calendars for the following reason: “Though the memorial of Saint Valentine is ancient, it is left to particular calendars, since, apart from his name, nothing is known of Saint Valentine except that he was buried on the Via Flaminia on February 14.”

And how did he come to be associated with love and romance? From here on in, we refer to the lore of legend.

One legend says that “[O]n the evening before Valentine was to be executed, he is supposed to have written the first ‘valentine’ card himself, addressed to the daughter of his jailer Asterius, who was no longer blind (a miracle he supposedly performed), signing as ‘Your Valentine.’ The expression ‘From your Valentine’ was later adopted by modern Valentine letters.”

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(1) Saint Valentine performed clandestine Christian weddings for soldiers who were forbidden to marry. The Roman Emperor then, Claudius II, reportedly forbade this kind of marriage to grow his army, believing that married men did not make for good soldiers. According to legend, in order “to remind these men of their vows and God’s love, Saint Valentine is said to have cut hearts from parchment”, giving them to these soldiers and persecuted Christians, a possible origin of the widespread use of hearts on St. Valentine’s Day.

(2) Saint Valentine supposedly wore a purple amethyst ring, customarily worn on the hands of Christian bishops with an image of Cupid engraved in it, a recognizable symbol associated with love that was legal under the Roman Empire; Roman soldiers would recognize the ring and ask him to perform marriage for them. Probably due to the association with Saint Valentine, amethyst has become the birthstone of February, which is thought to attract love.

(3) The celebration of Saint Valentine is not known to have had any romantic connotations until Geoffrey Chaucer’s poetry about “Valentine’s Day” in 1382. The opening lines of “Parliament of Fowls” say: “For this was on Saint Valentine’s Day / When every bird comes there to choose his match.” He supposedly wrote the poem to honor the first anniversary of the engagement of fifteen-year-old King Richard II of England to fifteen-year-old Anne of Bohemia.

In William Shakespeare’s Hamlet (1600–1601), we read these lines: “To-morrow is Saint Valentine’s day, All in the morning betime, And I a maid at your window, To be your Valentine.”

An erstwhile popular phrase “roses are red” originated from Gammer Gurton’s Garland (1784), a collection of English nursery rhymes published in London by Joseph Johnson:

“The rose is red, the violet’s blue, The honey’s sweet, and so are you. Thou art my love and I am thine; I drew thee to my Valentine…”

From poetry to chocolates and flowers, from cards and love letters to social media memes, from the thrill of love teams to the magic of sex, the many ways of expressing love never run out of fashion. Thanks to Valentine’s Day, everyone gets fired up on each occasion there is an opportunity for coupling.


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