Brain Candy and Valentine’s Day

Do our symbols of love spoonfeed the soul?

I’ve been working on a “Chocolate City” morsel for weeks now, delayed by fatigue and illness. However, after much effort, it’s still half-baked and hard to digest. So as a means of continuing to whet readers’ appetites for gruelling drivel I will serve up a slurry of mushy Valentine’s stuff. This is a slight redux of a tasty piece titled “Flowers, Chocolates and Valentine’s Day: Offerings to the God of Love” that I wrote for the Knowgramming site last year. Leftovers for Valentine’s Day – how romantic….

So here’s the rehashed version, I hope you relish it as much as I do:

Each year on February 14th, St. Valentine’s Day, gifts of flowers, chocolates and terms of endearment will be delivered to loved ones around the world. Nearly every delivery will be met with welcome, whether the arrangement of flowers is artistically unique, or a simple, single long-stemmed rose; or if the chocolates are white, dark or filled with cream or nuts. Why are these symbols so well accepted by society? The answer may lie in ourselves.

The history of a tradition need not be the true driving force of its popularity. Santa Claus now dons a red and white suit, but this now all-important symbol of Christmas has more to do with Coca Cola marketing than Christ’s birth or gift-giving. We accept new aspects into our traditions, and lose others along the way, eventually even giving credit where it is undue.

This transformation suggests that traditions are susceptible – often changing to meet the sensibilities of the current society in which they reside. We no longer make sacrifices to God on an altar, replacing this tradition with one where we pass around a plate for cash to serve His purposes nonetheless. Radical shifts in tradition can be religion-shattering, causing divisions and subdivisions within a church – each with their own evolving traditions.

Yet in the end, after countless years of morphing, common threads reappear among distantly related traditions. Muslims, Christians and Jews have related roots, with their traditions evolving quite independently. Why, then, do they all agree on the religious necessity of charity? And why are the fasts of Ramadan, Lent and Gedalya integral to the orthodox?

In each case, we see a tradition where one “gives up” something necessary to their life – typically by fasting, and “gives to” another, by means of charity, or sacrifice. The Christian tradition of communion is a single event encompassing both: The Body of Christ is given to His followers as a sacrifice to them. His bones and blood are delivered as bread and wine – materials essential to physical life. Under this tradition, then, His free sacrifice of self keeps us alive.

Love and passion are often metaphorically referred to as fire. Once a romance is “kindled“, “burning desire” or “flames of passion“, need occasional “fuel” to keep them alive, lest they fade to “dying embers“. And since food and fuel are metaphorically interchangeable (“feed the fire“; “Fuel for Kids”), it would then come as no surprise to find metaphorical equivalents of “food for love” in the sacrificial process of Valentines gift giving.

Chocolates are full of sugar, and sugar full of energy. So full, that chocolate bar manufacturer Mars now refers to their products as energy bars. Their recent commercials (ca. 2005) are decidedly sexual, and decidedly energetic. Why not? The hormone phenethylamine (PEA) abounds in chocolate, which produces the same sensation as being in love. Chocolates, then, are fuel for both the physical and the mental aspects of romance. Small wonder that men offer them to women by the heavy boxful.

Flowers first appear in the spring. This time for reproduction among plants, is also quite popular among animals. Humans call this “spring fever”. That we give a gift that visually suggests that love is in season is only part of the passion-feeding story. Flowers have a scent that is the essential ingredient of perfume – perfume, which, according to virtually every advertisement, somehow commands a sexual response. Pheromones, a chemical “your place or mine?” are thought to be at the heart of expressing sexual-appetite in both commercially successful perfumes and sexually successful body odours. Finally, we find ourselves giving specifically roses – flowers which are also colored red – on Valentine’s Day. This color choice, on further reflection, seems hardly a coincidence at all.

Our very symbols of passionate love – hearts and the colour red – universally fuel our Valentine’s Day cards. When passionately aroused, our hearts will pound, filling our faces with blood and readying us for passionate expression. The rhythm of the heart echoes in romantic music. The red and the heart are no metaphor – they are a direct representation of the physical effects of passion: food for primal thought.

Valentine’s Day is a day that we make offerings to each others’ love itself – not our loved ones. Love is treated as a God, which, though taking no physical form, has all the demands of a living creature. Chemically, we feed the passion with the pheromones found in flowers and perfume, and the hormone found in chocolate. Visually, we give the sexual “ready and willing” signal with red lingerie, hearts and flowers. Energetically, we provide the bounty of sweets for the sweet. Physically, we show a heart and listen to music, to bring to mind the throbbing sensation of passionate love.

And words of deepest sentiment will fill our Valentine’s cards, expressing every word a soul needs to hear to survive: “You’re special”, “I love you” and “I need you”. Our pet names themselves perhaps causing their own release of chemistry. In all, our gifts reflect the things of love so perfectly well, that all they need is a body to possess. Love is our master, and saviour, and we must make sacrifice to this hungry God on each and every Valentine’s Day.

Because if we don’t…

Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone.

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