One of the many oddities of life at Nashotah House was that we never celebrated St. Valentine. I wouldn’t expect a mostly male and neurotically homophobic community to mark Valentine’s Day as for lovers (most of the faculty and many students were married, however), but the saint’s name wasn’t uttered in my years there. Of course, commercialization of holidays does taint them somewhat. It’s difficult to take a day seriously when you’re being told that how much you spend will be the sign of how special it will be. With St. Valentine’s Day, however, I believe the topic was much too close to something the church had long feared—sexuality. I’ve often pondered how this strange obsession evolved. Judaism, from which Christianity sprung, isn’t the origin of this antipathy to being fully human.
The trouble likely starts in the Bible. The New Testament, in particular. No mention is made of Jesus having been married. Paul, in his usual way, made it an issue but fell short of outright condemning it. His words would help convince the Roman Catholic Church that mandated celibacy was a good idea. Clearly, however, Augustine of Hippo, who lived after Valentine (depending on which one you elect to follow) saw the whole enterprise as flawed. Making up the concept of original sin and tying it in with sexuality was a certain means of creating a problem. Not that Christianity is the only religion that promotes celibacy, of course. But when it came to Nashotah House there was really no concern about what other religions taught. Even on February 14 no collects were recited mentioning the saint who must not be named.
The history of saints’ days is a fascinating one. A few of them made it into pop culture—after Presidents’ Day there’s no national holiday until Memorial Day in May, so who can blame people for looking for reasons to celebrate while still waiting for spring? Saint Patrick wasn’t similarly given the cold shoulder at Nashotah in my years there. And although it moved around quite a bit, you could usually count on April for delivering Easter. We didn’t celebrate Presidents’ Day. Nor Martin Luther King Day—not being Catholic his canonization process was a non-starter. The long, cold stretch between Epiphany (now Insurrection Day) and Lent was one devoid of popular holidays. I suspect that despite the number of saints (and there are lots of them) the singling out of Valentine was considered to be asking for trouble. That was many years ago. Oddities, however, have a way of remaining in long-term memory.