On the morning of Valentine’s Day (yesterday), I heard a father say to his toddler, “Shall we go and get Mummy some flowers?” The little boy replied seriously, “Mummy would rather have a mango.” Yeah, I’m with you, buddy.
St Valentine is an obscure 3rd century saint who, apparently got martyred for marrying young couples illegally. Much later, his name got associated with tradition of courtly love, where troubadours would sing and write passionate songs expressing their unrequited love for ladies they could never hope to attract, usually because they were already married. It sounds a bit like the modern phenomena experienced on dating apps, with more singing.
My irritation about Valentine’s Day (amongst other things) is the tradition from which it stems, namely, the notion of a man wooing a woman with flowers, meals and chocolates. It smacks of that old, patriarchal chestnut – women resisting until the men win them over. Much more fun and contemporary, and a reflection of how men and women are equally keen to get a leg-over, would be to celebrate a day (or several days) of joyous, lusty sex. So where’s the patron saint of sex?
Several minutes later…
OK, searching for a patron saint of sex turned up nothing – there are only saints venerated for how they managed to stay chaste in the face of extreme carnal temptation.
Ironically, to be contemporary, we have to go back to the Greeks and Romans. The ancient Roman festivals of the cult of Bacchus are a model which we need to resurrect. Bacchus is the Roman god of wine, intoxication and orgasms. OK, ecstasy. But when I read ecstasy, I read orgasm. The earliest versions of Bacchanalia were open to women only, and even later incarnations were overwhelmingly female. The wine-fuelled events featured lots of nudity and sexual promiscuity. Well you wouldn’t expect anything less from an ancient Roman sex festival, would you?
Or how about the Liberalia on 17th March, celebrated by the Romans with processions, gauche songs and ribaldry. Liberalia was an observance of the rites of passage from childhood to adulthood. The processions featured a large phallus which was carried by people to bring the blessing of fertility upon the land and the people. I have no evidence, but I’m sure orgies were involved.
The cult of Dionysia in ancient Greece also featured a phallic procession, also known as the “penis parade”. And for more penis parades, there is the Shinto Kanamara Matsui (Festival of the Steel Phallus) and the Honen Matsuri in Japan. Again, bring on the orgies. The Japanese Edo period was one of great eroticism (see Shunga Art).
Any festival or carnival where masks were involved seemed to naturally turn to debauchery. The face mask has a liberating effect – anonymity releases you from your position in society and the strict moral codes that accompany it. Both the feasts of Saturnalia and the Venice Carnival were masquerades and, probably, featured carnality with the carnevale.
Sex, lust and passion are things that should be celebrated loudly and joyously. Liberating your deepest, most vulnerable, erotic self to a long term partner may be just the tonic to sustain the harder work of long term companionship. Yes, I’m sure Mummy would rather have a mango. Or a day of no cooking, or some reading time. Or if Daddy really wants to show Mummy how much he loves her, he could make a habit of occasionally AND WITHOUT PROMPTING, send her messages to tell her how sexy and how much he loves her, or makes her a delicious and healthy breakfast in bed, or suggests going away for a weekend to a little hotel in the countryside with a roaring log fire. If they can manage it, on at least a few days a year (feast day or not) they can and should be thoroughly lusty and wantonly debauched, either with each other, or perhaps with others, in a contemporary version of Bacchanalia or Liberalia. Seeing your loved one being desired by others may be just the thing to remind you why you were first drawn to him/her.
And if you’re not partnered, well, even more reason to celebrate many days of lust.