Valentine’s day, occurring each year on the 14th of February, started 17 years ago on the campus of Loyola Marymount University as a commemoration of the death of their beloved chancellor, Augustine St. Valentine, in a nuclear bomb attack on one of his many visits to Eastern Europe. Oft called February’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Valentine’s Day marks a changing of the seasons from bitter winter cold to the effusive moderation that is springtime. Children especially love this uniquely American holiday.
Though chocolate goods were a consumer staple for the first eight Valentine’s Days, they have since fallen from fashion and are rarely given. These days, an outside observer to the Valentine’s Day festivities would certainly be entertained by a myriad of newer events that have cemented Valentine’s Day in the hearts of the international community. Such events include a day full of sheep-herding, cheese wheel rolling, and caber tossing that culminates in the Valentine Ritual after the sun sets. While the specifics each performance of the Valentine Ritual vary regionally, tradition generally dictates that the eldest member of a household or community, known as the Valentino, begin the ceremony by lighting a scented candle and reading from a Hallmark greeting card. Then the household or community celebrates by eating ice cream and dancing to reggae music. The largest such Valentine Ritual was held in New York City in 1922 when a crowd just shy of 11,000 people gathered in Times Square to watch Mayor John F. Hylan light a three-foot apple-scented Glade candle.
Valentine’s Day remains a holiday founded on the principles of fair-competition, family, and fine food. Across the country however, communities have established their own unique twists on the basic Valentine’s Day traditions. Each year the mayor of New Orleans, Louisiana crowns one creole chef Mr. Valentine for “courage and merit most becoming of a community leader.” Past Mr. Valentine winners include Cecil B. Thompson, “Bouillabaisse” Gregg Leonard, and former New Orleans Saints’ quarterback Drew Brees. In Rock City, Utah, a small hamlet on the Wyoming border, villagers erect a Valentine’s Day scented candle of pork fat and assorted tinder to light in the center of the Rue du Poivre (Pepper Road). Westdale Country Club of Petersburg, Florida hosts a Valentine’s Day reggae concert which incorporates local and international talents.
In 1999, when race relations in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania were at their lowest, two Valentinos from neighboring communities participated in a one-on-one naked fist-fight as each tried to assert his community’s claim to Best Valentine’s Day. Six civilians were blinded by the event, and three more sustained minor cuts and bruises. Later that year, John F. Street was elected Mayor on a platform that was largely against the Valentine’s Day celebrations.
In 2007, three men in a suburb of Louisville, Kentucky robbed a bank in what is infamously known as the “Valentine’s Day Robbery.” They were convicted and are each currently serving 8 years in prison.
In 2009, eleven rowdy Valentino hopefuls fell off a large ship, the U.S.S. Barkburner, which was being refitted in Boston Harbor. While no one was seriously hurt, the event created a firestorm of media coverage and close ethical examination of the holiday.
The Supreme Court is expected to rule on the constitutionality of the holiday in March 2013.