Valentine’s Day isn’t celebrated as much in Italy as it is in the States, but like Halloween and doggy bags, this wonderful American tradition is catching on over here. And it’s about time, because Saint Valentine was really San Valentino and he was Italian.

Here’s the story:

San Valentino was a priest in the earliest, earliest days of Christianity (269 A.D. to be precise), who performed marriages in secret when one of Rome’s many crazy emperors banned it for a while. Despite the ban, Valentino risked his neck to marry people anyway, who were surely doing it out of wild love because they, too, were risking their necks.

Valentino was caught, lost his head, and gained immortality.

A thousand years went by. A mere blink of an eye for Italian history. After centuries of anonymity, out of the blue, Valentine’s Day was suddenly referred to by those powerhouses of 10th grade English class, Chaucer and Shakespeare, as the Day of Love. Why February 14 of all days? I’m pretty certain nobody knows when Valentino lost his head or was born or anything, but like December 25, it appears to have conveniently replaced an older holiday celebrated by pagans in order to make conversion to Christian holidays more palatable to them. The pagan holiday that Valentine’s Day replaced? One having to do with, er, procreation.

This thoroughly Italian holiday was gradually forgotten in Italy, but for some reason, Americans loved it. It was like the fettuccine Alfredo of holidays (this is not eaten in Italy). Until now! Thanks to movies and crafty Italian merchants, Valentine’s Day is picking up steam here. Children here remain pretty much uninvolved – no cards or candies are exchanged in school – but gifts and chocolates and dinners between couples are on the rise. YES!

Italian men are reluctant, but easily persuaded. All I had to say to my date who refused on macho principle to celebrate such a made-up bogus holiday was to tell him that a) it’s actually an old Catholic holiday, and b) I bet he does something for his mother on Mother’s Day, which is even more made-up and arbitrary. Ladies, evoke Catholicism and la mamma – works every time.

SO! I am getting a dinner and a nice book from an Italian on this Italianissimo holy day. No flowers or anything, but I’d rather have a book and I’d rather have both, but this is a great start for someone who has never celebrated it in his life.

Still, a week ago when my American friend (male) made a reservation at a nice restaurant for tonight for his Italian wife, the man on the phone didn’t understand why he was calling so far in advance. “Because it’s Valentine’s Day,” Shawn explained. “It is?” the man asked.

I bet that man knows when Mother’s Day is.

San Valentino


CURIOUS ABOUT THIS PHOTOGRAPH? It’s awful, because I snapped it with my old Blackberry a few years ago. Anyway, you can see the bones of St. Valentine himself in the church attached to the Bocca della Verita’. Much recommended!